US gives add'l $3.5M worth of support to Philippines' COVID-19 inoculation drive

Willard Cheng, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Apr 15 2021 06:45 PM

In this image released by the US Department of Defense, Oregon National Guard Soldiers on April 10, 2020, receive and inventory a shipment of personal protective equipment (PPE) sent by USAID from Dubai. US Department of Defense via AFP

MANILA — The United States through its development agency announced Thursday it would provide additional $3.5 million to further support the Philippines' vaccination programs via the COVAX facility. 

United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Acting Administrator Gloria Steele made the announcement during a virtual economic briefing organized by the Philippine Embassy in the United States to mark the 75th anniversary of Philippine-US diplomatic relations.

“Our assistance will strengthen vaccine supply chains and support local governments to plan, track, and deliver vaccines. And it will help the Philippine Department of Health and local governments distribute essential public health messaging around the vaccines,” Steele said. 

The USAID is working to increase the availability of vaccines globally, particularly in Asia, including the Philippines, she said. 

The USAID has contributed an initial $2 billion to COVAX and is committed to give another $2 billion for next year to increase global supply of vaccines.

Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez said the Philippines has arranged for the delivery of more than 140 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines this year, with the majority of the financing sourced through loans from the World Bank, Asian Development Bank, and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.

"About 15 percent will be delivered in the first half of this year and 85 percent in the second half," Dominguez said.

 US agency to put up office in Manila

The United States Trade and Development Agency (USTDA) also announced it would open an office at the US Embassy in Manila later this year.

The USTDA is the overseas project preparation agency of the US government that provides grant-based support for technical assistance, feasibility studies and pilot projects to help infrastructure projects move from concept to financing to implementation.

USTDA Acting Director Enoh Ebong said establishing a presence in Manila is a way to “redouble” the agency’s efforts and “reaffirm” its commitment to partners in the Philippines and the ASEAN region.

“This new USTDA office will help us meet the growing demand for our program in the Philippines. It will also facilitate the financing and implementation of our infrastructure projects through closer engagement with the Asian Development Bank and other regional financial institutions,” Ebong said.

During the same event, a grant agreement for technical assistance was signed to develop a comprehensive master plan for deploying smart mobility and traffic management solutions for 13 local government units that comprise metro Cebu. 

Ebong said the funding for the new transportation project aims to help reduce traffic congestion and improve mobility in the Cebu metropolitan area.

“The solutions to be assessed under this grant will not only relieve traffic congestion but also reduce vehicle emissions and energy consumption, underscoring USTDA’s commitment to supporting climate-smart transportation infrastructure,” Ebong said.

Ebong signed the agreement for the USTDA, while Dominguez and Transport Secretary Arthur Tugade signed for the Philippine side.

Philippine Ambassador to Washington Jose Manuel Romualdez invited US firms to invest in the Philippines as he stressed the need for cooperation and collaboration among the governments and private sector to address the impact of the pandemic on the people and economy. 

The U.S. was the Philippines’ top source of foreign direct investments last year, accounting for about a third of the total foreign pledges, according to Romualdez.

“Investments from the United States saw a substantial growth in 2019 amid a general downward trend. We are proud that many US companies including those in the Fortune 500 have found their home in the Philippines and hope that more companies will look to us as they diversify and reconfigure their supply chains,” Romualdez said.

In his remarks, US Embassy Charg√© d’Affaires John Law expressed optimism that US businesses will continue to invest, adding that “continued regulatory reform in the Philippines” will help convince US companies of the Philippines’ market potential as he also invited Philippine businesses to invest in the US.

“Our future brims with hope, in particular on the economic front, as we see U.S. businesses recovering from the pandemic and investing anew in Philippine communities and industries. Continued regulatory reform in the Philippines that enables greater foreign private sector investment, in such areas as infrastructure development and energy, will help us to convince U.S. companies of the Philippines’ market potential,” Law said.

He also reiterated US support for a free and open Indo-Pacific.

“Put simply, the United States supports a free and open Indo-Pacific in which sovereign, independent nations and diverse cultures can prosper side-by-side and thrive in freedom and peace, all the while respecting rule of law and fair business practices,” he said. 

“Fundamentally, the region can best unlock national and individual potential through free and fair trade and investment,” he added as he cited the three priority sectors under the Indo-Pacific Strategy: Energy, Infrastructure, and Digital Connectivity and Cybersecurity.

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