Foreign ministers of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) met online on Thursday to discuss appropriate measures against the Covid-19 pandemic, including ensuring the supply of the regional staple.

The 25th Meeting of the Asean Coordinating Council endorsed measures recommended by the Asean Coordinating Council Working Group on Public Health Emergencies during its inaugural meeting last March 31, the Department of Foreign Affairs said in a statement.

These measures include continued sharing of information and best practices, measures to mitigate the negative socioeconomic impact of the pandemic, and the establishment of a Covid-19 Asean Response Fund.

In his intervention, Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin, Jr. underscored the need for continued cooperation among Asean member states to ensure food security, particularly a stable rice supply, as well as access to medicines, personal protective equipment, and other essential medical supplies.

The Philippines, the world’s biggest rice importer, called on trading partners last month to honor supply contracts amid the pandemic. Manila approved 300,000 metric tons in standby rice imports after ordering a wide-ranging quarantine.

Locsin  also stressed the importance of maintaining peace and stability in the region, particularly in the South China Sea.

The Philippines backed Vietnam after a Vietnamese fishing vessel was reportedly sunk by China off the Paracels on April 3.

The foreign ministers shared a message of solidarity with Asean amid the pandemic that has led to lockdowns worldwide.

Locsin delivered his message in Hiligaynon, saying “Katuwang ang Pilipinas sang mga pungsod nga miyembro kan Asean sa madinalag-un nga pag-tapna sang Covid-19.” (The Philippines stands united with other Asean Member States in the fight against Covid-19). (Melo M. Acuña)