A spokesman for Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte on Thursday thanked China for agreeing to give Manila access once it develops a vaccine for COVID-19, saying that it pays to be friendly despite territorial disputes.
Spokesman Harry Roque said the government also hoped that “other friends” including the United States and European nations would share their knowledge if they find a vaccine.
“We thank the government of China for publicly saying that the Philippines, a close friend, would benefit from a vaccine they are developing,” Roque said in a virtual news conference. “These are fruits of an independent foreign policy, where we are friends to all and enemies to none.”
Roque’s statement came on the day that the health department reported the single-largest daily tally of 3,954 infections, bringing the total to 89,374. In addition, 23 people were killed, bringing the death toll to 1,983.
The Philippines has recorded more infections than China, where the coronavirus originated and more than 84,000 have been infected. Indonesia tops the region with more than 106,000 cases.
Worldwide, more than 17 million have been infected by COVID-19 and nearly 668,000 have died, according to disease experts at the U.S.-based Johns Hopkins University.
In comments Wednesday saying China would “give priority” to Manila’s vaccine request, Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin was responding to an appeal uttered Monday by Duterte during his State of the Nation Address to Congress.
“I made a plea to Chinese President Xi Jinping that if they have the vaccine, can they allow us to be one of the first? Or if it is needed, if we have to buy it, that we will be granted credit so that we will normalize as fast as possible," Duterte said.
In the same speech, Duterte said he was “powerless” to enforce his country’s ownership of territories in the South China Sea that have been claimed or taken over by China.
“China is claiming it, we are claiming it. China has the arms, we do not have it. So, it’s simple as that. They are in possession of the property… So what can we do? We have to go to war. And I cannot afford it,” the president said.
Researchers around the world are racing to develop vaccines against the coronavirus, and 27 of the candidates have advanced to human trials, where they are tested on thousands of people to see if they work, according to the The New York Times, a leading U.S. newspaper.
For its part, the U.S. has provided more than $19 million in COVID-19 assistance to the Philippines, the State Department said Wednesday in a summary of its global efforts to fight the pandemic.
The funding includes about $6.5 million to upgrade laboratories and specimen-transport systems, and to prevent and control infectious diseases in health facilities, among other things; and $6.8 million to help communities prepare for and respond to COVID-19, the statement said.
Richel V. Umel in Iligan City, Philippines, contributed to this report.