MANILA — Malacañang on Wednesday conveyed its thanks to China for assistance in sourcing COVID-19 vaccines, as the country's immunization drive suffered delays.
Beijing's upcoming donation of 600,000 Sinovac Biotech shots is set to be the first batch of vaccines that the Philippine government expects to get before the end of February or early March.
"I'd like to express the gratitude of the President not only to Sinovac, but to the government of the People's Republic of China for once more coming to our assistance in our time of dire need," said Palace spokesman Harry Roque.
"Thank you very much, and the Filipino people are a people that will never forget assistance given when we needed it the most," he said in a press briefing attended by a Sinovac representative.
Duterte wants to welcome in person the arrival of the Sinovac doses, said his spokesman.
"Pilipino tayo. Tumatanaw tayo ng utang na loob," Roque reasoned. "Sa ating panahon ng pangangailangan, talaga naman iyong kaibigan nating Tsina ang nagpadala ng unang bakuna sa atin."
(We are Filipinos. We honor our debt of gratitude. In our time of need, our friend China will send our first vaccines.)
The lack of an indemnity deal, which settles who should pay in case of adverse effects from vaccines, had delayed the arrival of 117,000 COVID-19 vaccine doses from Pfizer, which were initially expected in mid-February.
"Ginawa natin ang lahat para makuha iyong gusto ng nakakarami, lalo na iyong gustong brand ng mga oposisyon. Pero talagang sa huli, ‘pag nagkaroon na ng kagipitan, mga kaibigan lang talaga natin ang maaasahan na magbigay ng kinakailangan natin," said Roque.
(We did everything to get what the majority wants, the brand that the opposition prefers. But in the end, in times of need, we can just rely on our friends to give us what we need.)
"Hanggang dun lang po iyon. Wala naman pong epekto ‘yan sa ibang mga issue na mayroon tayo sa ating bilateral relation sa Tsina," he added.
(It only extends up to there. That has no effect on the other issues in our bilateral relations with China.)
Beijing has refused to recognize an arbitral ruling that junks its sweeping claims to the South China Sea, including parts of the Philippine exclusive economic zone. Observers have said Beijing might use its vaccines to push for its regional agenda.
Beijing's offer of its homegrown labs to poorer countries "is part of their campaign to improve China's standing in the world, and to win the hearts and minds of people," Philippine Ambassador Chito Sta. Romana earlier said.
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"The point of this vaccine diplomacy is on the one hand iyong (their) pledge to make it a global public good, to make it available, particularly to their close friends," he said in January.
"But whether they'll make it a condition sa (in) geopolitics, that has not up in a discussion... There has been no attempt of the Chinese to link the two together," added Sta. Romana.
Roque said he, vaccine czar Carlito Galvez, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III, and Defense chief Delfin Lorenzana are willing to take COVID-19 jabs from Sinovac to boost public confidence in the vaccine.
Video courtesy of PTV