AT the Special Asean-Australia Foreign Ministers’ Meeting, Secretary of Foreign Affairs (SFA) Teodoro L. Locsin Jr. shone the spotlight on the central role of women in discussions to develop a post-pandemic recovery plan.
Together with Asean foreign ministers and its secretary-general, Locsin exchanged views with Minister of the Commonwealth of Australia for Foreign Affairs Marise Payne regarding Asean-Australia cooperation to address matters surrounding the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) and the next steps forward for the region’s economic recovery.
Payne stated that women are a priority for Australia and hailed her counterpart from the Philippines for recognizing “the importance of including women in the recovery in every way.”
She quoted him as saying, “when it comes to caring in emergencies—be they conflict or health, we must look to women to play the bigger and more effective role. We need to protect and promote the rights of women so they can do with less hindrance what comes naturally to them: the protection and care of mankind.”
The secretary cited the inequalities suffered by women, chiefly their vulnerability to domestic abuse during lockdowns, loss of family income, greater risk of infection as frontline workers, and greater exposure to mental strain. He called on Asean and Australia to craft a women-responsive recovery plan for the region that will give them their due and assure their well-being as a priority in the new normal.
Partnering for recovery
AT the meeting, Payne announced Australia’s package of initiatives to expand cooperation with bloc on Covid-19 through an additional $23-million commitment to help the region bolster health security, economic recovery, and stability. This is in-line with the Australian government’s new “Partnerships for Recovery” policy.
The assistance will be allocated for various health initiatives, support for Asean-Australia Political-Security Partnership, vulnerable migrant-worker communities, and programs that will accelerate the region’s digital transformation in support of Asean’s pandemic recovery plan.
The meeting noted that Covid-19 exposed the weaknesses of regional supply chains and shut down tourism. Locsin spoke on the need for new and creative solutions to reinvigorate Asean’s trade and tourism industries which are largely reliant on intra-regional travel, and stated that the Philippines is eyeing similar approaches to Australia’s “travel bubble” policy.
ASIDE from expressing the country’s willingness to work with the “Land Down Under” in developing effective and affordable cures, a vaccine, therapeutics and diagnostics, the chief diplomat also put great stock in the launch of the Asean Coordinating Centre for Animal Health and Zoonoses, as well as the need to approach environmental health and human health as whole.
Saying that illegal trade in wildlife may be at the root of the pandemic, the SFA emphasized that both parties have a chance to improve existing tools for wildlife-disease surveillance, and develop the right measures to control, prevent, and eradicate zoonotic diseases arising from the illegal trade of animals and animal products through the Asean Centre for Biodiversity hosted by the Philippines.
Locsin saw the continental-state, with its location south of the region, as the anchor of a mostly maritime Asean. He affirmed that, despite the overriding attention demanded by Covid-19, the Philippines is more committed than ever to the maintenance of peace and stability in the South China Sea/West Philippine Sea.
The secretary emphasized the importance of self-restraint, curbing delusions of grandeur, encouraging rather than discouraging mutual trust, and an unflagging adherence to international law, which includes the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, or UNCLOS. The meeting was the fourth Special Foreign Ministers’ Meeting held via videoconference on June 30, with Asean dialogue partners on Covid-19, after China, the United States and Russia. With a report from the DFA