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MANILA-- Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte on Tuesday stressed the importance of sustained food security and open trade in Southeast Asia as the region battles the COVID-19 pandemic.
At a virtual summit of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nation (ASEAN), Duterte stressed the need to "act collectively and support each other" to effectively overcome the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
"ASEAN must collaborate and coordinate within our region and beyond," Duterte said in his address, adding that "retreating from the regional and global connections cannot be the answer."
Duterte said that the world is "in the middle of an unfolding catastrophe -- unprecedented in scale and devastating in impact for all."
"We face a new and different kind of enemy. In the most visceral way, COVID-19 is upending the totality of our way of life. And this virus threatens to exact the highest tolls -- on our peoples and our economies," he added.
Like many of the coronavirus-hit countries around the globe, the Philippines and some ASEAN countries were forced to impose drastic measures to address the pandemic, including asking people to distance from each other and stay home, reducing socio-economic activities to the barest minimum and closing borders, which created barriers for mobility and trade, Duterte said.
"These immediate responses, while necessary, could drive our societies and the larger international community further apart. And yet, an effective, strategic response requires that we come together and cooperate even more," he warned.
Due to the pandemic, Duterte said the region's healthcare systems are under increasing stress as the number of infections rises, with a shortage of vital medicines, medical equipment and supplies.
He expressed concern over the impact of the pandemic lockdowns on food security, adding ASEAN must remain open for trade.
"Crisis or no crisis, no country can stand alone. Let us, therefore ensure the supply chain connectivity and the smooth flow of goods within our region," he said.
"Food security is key in maintaining socio-economic and political stability, especially at a time of great difficulty for our people," he warned.
Duterte said ASEAN needs to improve and expand existing mechanisms to cover public health emergencies, and suggested ASEAN establish an early warning system for pandemics in the region, saying the Philippines welcomes Thailand's proposal to establish a COVID-19 ASEAN response fund.
All 10 Southeast Asian leaders participated in the meeting presided over by Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc of Vietnam, the rotating chair of ASEAN this year.
ASEAN groups Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.