MANILA (UPDATED) — The United States on Tuesday donated 3 million more COVID-19 shots to the Philippines, prompting President Rodrigo Duterte to tout the "strong and deep friendship" between the 2 countries, despite testy incidents during his term.
Duterte thanked the US for its "generosity" at the arrival of its donated 3,000,060 Moderna jabs.
The US also provided the Philippines with key medical supplies and equipment, and support to institutions, said the President.
"All of these have helped and definitely will continue to help the Filipino people. Indeed, the cooperation between the Philippines and US in overcoming the pandemic highlights the strong and deep friendship between our two countries," he said at an arrival program for the jabs.
Washington is the biggest contributor to the vaccine-sharing COVAX Facility, and has "facilitated the delivery of more than 13 million vaccines to the Philippines", according to US Embassy Charge d’ Affaires John Law.
"The United States will continue to partner closely with the Philippine government to confront and defeat this pandemic. For decades, our 2 nations have been allies and partners," he said during the program.
"For generations, Filipinos and Americans have been friends and family, despite the challenges and difficulties we’ve endured during the past year and a half, our nations and our friendship are stronger for having faced them side by side," Law added.
Duterte early in his term had announced a "separation" from the United States, Manila's only defense ally, as he "realigned" with China and agreed to resolve competing claims in the West Philippine Sea through talks.
In other occasions, he cursed at former US President Barack Obama for expressing concern over the Philippine drug war, and repeatedly brought up alleged American war abuses.
Last year, Duterte cancelled the Philippines' Visiting Forces Agreement with the United States after one of his allies was denied a US visa.
But Duterte extended the pact's abrogation at least thrice and said in February the US must "pay" if it wanted to keep the pact.
The President last week fully restored the VFA.
"Give and take lang tayo," Duterte said on Monday. "Pasalamat tayo sa kanila at maibigay naman na—may naibigay na naman ako sa kanila na concession. I consider the continuance of—to the—continuance of the Visiting Forces Agreement."
(We just give and take. We thank them and I gave them a concession.)
"I'd like to thank President of the United States, si Biden, the government and the people of America for not forgetting us... Do not forget us because we share the same outlook sa geopolitics dito sa (here in), especially in Southeast Asia," he said in a late night speech.
WHERE WILL US DONATION GO?
US-donated vaccines "are protecting the most vulnerable populations: the elderly, the immunocompromised, [and] the medical workers who everyday risk their own health to keep us safe," said Law.
These are the top 3 priority groups in the Philippine vaccine drive.
'I know that it is the sentiment of America that the vaccines that will be given to the Philippines should go first to those who have least in life, 'yong mga mahirap (the poor)," said Duterte.
"The poor ones who cannot afford and for those, well, who do not want to be vaccinated we will try to entice them with the vaccines given by the United States," he added.
Vaccine czar Sec. Carlito Galvez Jr. gave assurances the President’s directive will be implemented.
"We will advise lahat ng makikinabang dito sa Moderna na ‘yung mga unang araw, i-dedicate natin sa mga indigent population… At least yung 500,000 or more can be given to our indigent Filipino people," he said.
Part of the 3 million Moderna doses will be distributed to areas experiencing a spike in COVID-19 cases. At least half of the shipment will go to Metro Manila, according to Galvez.
"Ang pupuntahan nito ay NCR Plus 8 at saka ‘yung mga surge area. So kasama rito ‘yung Region 3, Region 4A, Region 6, part ng Visayas at Mindanao, kasama na rito ang Davao at ang GenSan, and some other areas na nagkakaroon ng surge, Gingoog City, Cagayan de Oro, Leyte, and also maybe titingnan din natin kung kaya natin hanggang Ilocos maipamigay natin," he said.
Galvez also gave assurances there will be enough jabs for Metro Manila to achieve its target to vaccinate 4 million doses within the two-week enhanced community quarantine period in the region.
"Kaya natin... Mayroon tayong nai-distribute na 2.5 million ng Sinovac, yung 1 million doon ibinigay natin sa NCR plus. Itong Moderna, 1.5 or 2 million. Magkakaroon pa tayo ng another donation from Sinopharm, at ibibigay natin partly talaga malaki sa Metro Manila. At may darating na more or less 8 million from Sinovac," he said.
On the appeal by Metro Manila mayors to open COVID-19 vaccination to everyone in the region during ECQ, Galvez issued this statement.
"We cannot open it to everybody, because the vaccine is still insufficient. Kailangan i-prioritize natin ito sa mga vulnerable sector," he said.
The vaccine czar also believes it is not yet time to make COVID-19 vaccination mandatory due to limited supply.
"Magiging mandatory yan pag mayroon na tayong enough na supply. Sa ngayon nakita natin kulang pa ang supply natin. We cannot really require," Galvez said.
Indigents comprise the fifth vaccination priority, after essential workers.
The Philippines has fully vaccinated some 9.3 million individuals against COVID-19 as of Aug. 2, while around 11.8 million have received one dose, Malacañang said. The government aims to inoculate 58 to 70 million in the country to achieve herd immunity and safely reopen the economy.
Authorities are racing to inoculate more people before a potential surge of COVID-19 cases due to the highly infectious Delta coronavirus variant.
Just 200 cases of the Delta variant had been detected in the community, of which 17 were still active, Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said, although genome testing capacity in the Southeast Asian country is limited.
— With a report from Vivienne Gulla, ABS-CBN News; Reuters