MANILA - President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday thanked Chinese President Xi Jinping for helping the Philippines get its first batch of COVID-19 vaccines from Sinovac Biotech.
"If President Xi Jinping is listening now, President, from the bottom of my heart, and with immense gratitude, I thank you, the Chinese people and government, for being so generous. Maybe someday I can repay you if I would still have enough time in this planet," Duterte said during his weekly public briefing.
Duterte also said he was able to talk to Chinese Ambassador Huang Xilian, who whispered something to him during Sunday's turnover ceremony for the CoronaVac vaccines.
"Let me thank again, mayroong ibinulong sa akin si Ambassador Huang Xilian, ayaw ko lang sabihin. Pero before we shook hands before we left the stage, may sinabi siya eh. He said something to me. Very encouraging, and I said thank you. Alam na ninyo kung ano 'yan, but I would not want to preempt. I want the benefactor to announce that, ginusto nila 'yan eh. So pasalamat tayo," he said.
(Let me thank again, Ambassador Huang Xilian whispered something to me. I just don't want to say it, but he told me something when we shook hands before we left the stage. Very encouraging, and I said thank you. You know what it is, but I would not want to preempt. I want the benefactor to announce that, they wanted to do it. So we are thankful.)
Duterte said he personally called Xi during the early days of the pandemic to ask for help in acquiring vaccines. He said the credit goes to the Filipino people who made him think of ways to solve the problem.
"I would like to thank President Xi Jinping. You know, I do not want to grab the credit. The credit is the Filipino people, inspired us to crank our gray matter between the ears, how really can we muster a good plan," he said.
The Philippines on Sunday received its first official supply of vaccines that would jumpstart its inoculation drive against the coronavirus, courtesy of China's donation of 600,000 shots from Beijing-based drugmaker Sinovac Biotech.
Duterte, his former aide Sen. Christopher "Bong" Go, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III, national COVID-19 task chief implementer and vaccine czar Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr., Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr., and other Cabinet officials formally welcomed the country's initial vaccine supply with Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Huang Xilian and other Chinese diplomats.
On Monday, the country started its vaccination program, in hopes of an immediate return to normalcy as the country races to stop the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19).
Aside from the first official shipment of CoronaVac that arrived in the country, several government officials and members of the Presidential Security Group have already been vaccinated with smuggled Sinopharm vaccines.
This year, the country aims to inoculate 70 million of its 108 million people to achieve herd immunity and reopen an economy that in 2020 saw its worst contraction on record, due largely to tight restrictions on movement in place since mid-March.
Galvez earlier said the government is eyeing to vaccinate 1.7 million health workers this March.
The vaccination program will be crucial for Philippine efforts to revive its economy, which suffered a record 9.5 percent slump last year due to strict and lengthy lockdowns that hit consumer spending and saw big job losses.