President Rodrigo Duterte has urged the United Nations to ensure that all countries would have access to vaccines against the new coronavirus disease (COVID-19).
He said it must be considered a “global public good.”
Speaking for the first time at the UN General Assembly, the President also said the 75-year-old international body, which he called “inutile” in the past should implement “bold reforms” in its processes as the world ushers into a “new normal” brought by the pandemic.
“The world is in the race to find a safe and effective vaccine. When the world finds that vaccine, access to it must not be denied nor withheld. It should be made available to all, rich and poor nations alike, as a matter of policy,” Duterte said.
“The Philippines joins our partners in the ASEAN and the Non-Aligned Movement in raising our collective voice: the COVID-19 vaccine must be considered a global public good. Let us be clear on this,” he added.
The President underscored that universal access to anti-COVID-19 technologies is pivotal in global pandemic recovery.
He has been pinning his hopes on vaccines to put an end to the pandemic which forced his administration to impose large-scale lockdowns that plunged the economy into a recession.
In his speech, the President added that the UN cannot be “business as usual” and should reassess, along with its member states, if it had been true to its principles.
“To make significant changes, we need to be bold. We need the same collective courage that finally made the United Nations a reality 75 years ago,” he said.
President Duterte urged the international organization to act on long-standing recommendations to improve the Security Council’s composition and working methods, to strengthen the role of the General Assembly and to streamline its processes and operations.
“Let us strengthen it so it can fully deliver its mandate to maintain peace and security, uphold justice and human rights, and promote freedom and social progress for all,” he said.
Duterte also emphasized the need for “coordinated international plans and efforts” to solve the pandemic even as he recognized that every nation has its own strategy to address the crisis.
With the world now at crossroads, Duterte said how the world addresses the pandemic will define its future.
The Philippines’ Chief Executive also called for a stronger World Health Organization (WHO), as well as a global health agenda with enough resources.
“We need a WHO that is quick to coordinate and quicker to respond. The Philippines will do its part in the pooling of global resources,” Duterte said.
In July, the Philippines expressed its intention to join the WHO-backed COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access, a mechanism aimed at ensuring a fair and equitable access to vaccines.
During the summit, UN Secretary General António Guterres called the health crisis “our own 1945 moment” — a reference to World War II — and described COVID-19 as a “toxic virus shaking the democratic underpinnings in many countries.”
President Duterte acknowledged that the UN, which he has repeatedly slammed before over its supposed interference in domestic affairs including his anti-narcotics campaign, brought “relief and hope to so many countries and peoples around the world.”
Duterte also said the Philippines values the UN’s role in global efforts to address the health crisis.
“As a middle-income country whose economic advances have been derailed by the pandemic, we welcome the launch of the UN COVID Response and Recovery Fund,” he said, referring to the mechanism formed to support low- and middle-income program countries amid the pandemic.
Unlike his predecessors, Duterte has refused to participate in the previous general assemblies of the UN. But this year’s assembly is of “special significance” due to landmark commemoration of the UN’s 75th year and the “intensity and urgency needed to address global issues,” according to Malacañang.
The event marks the 75th founding year of the UN. It was held virtually this year due to the pandemic and strict quarantine regulations in New York City.
Instead of meeting in person, UN officials, presidents and prime ministers sent pre-recorded speeches to mark the occasion.