PH, US defense chiefs tackle West Philippine Sea situation, regional security issues

Robie de Guzman   •   April 12, 2021   •   313

MANILA, Philippines – Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana and United States Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin III on Sunday (April 11) discussed the situation in the West Philippine Sea and some measures to deepen the defense cooperation of two countries amid recent tensions in the contested waters.

In a statement, the Department of National Defense (DND) said the defense chiefs of the two nations held a telephone conference to talk about the situation in the West Philippine Sea and recent developments in regional security.

DND Spokesperson Arsenio Andolong earlier said that the Philippines is “keeping all options open” but said they are closely coordinating with the United States government on the matter.

Andolong also said that both parties are “committed to undertake their obligations under the Mutual Defense Treaty so that neither stands alone in these issues involving the two states’ inherent right of self-defense, individually and collectively.”

The United States and the Philippines signed the mutual defense treaty in 1951.

In a separate statement, Austin said he spoke with his counterpart to reaffirm their commitment to the alliance between the US and the Philippines.

“I had a productive call with SND @del_lorenzana to discuss challenges in the South China Sea and the need for unity in ensuring security and stability in the region. #FreeandopenIndoPacific,” he said.

The DND said both defense chiefs “are looking forward to the conduct of Exercise Balikatan, which was canceled last year.”

Austin also reiterated the importance of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) between the two nations and “hopes that it would be continued.”

“Secretary Lorenzana committed to discuss the matter with the President as the final approval lies with him,” the DND said.

Also during the phone conversation, Lorenzana sought Austin’s assistance to speed up the delivery of Moderna-developed COVID-19 vaccine doses that were procured by the Philippine government.

“To which, Secretary Austin replied that he would look into the issue and bring it to the attention of the office concerned,” the DND said.

DOH studying possibility of mixing vaccine brands – FDA

Robie de Guzman   •   May 6, 2021

MANILA, Philippines – The Department of Health (DOH) is currently looking into the possibility of mixing different brands of vaccines against novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said Thursday.

FDA director general Eric Domingo said the DOH is already drafting a set of guidelines that will allow a person to receive different brands of COVID-19 vaccines for first and second dose in case of severe allergic reaction and other adverse effects.

Aaralin po ngayon yan ng Department of Health, in fact, meron naman po talagang ongoing meetings ang Department of Health on that dahil meron po talagang instances na for example naturukan ka ng bakuna ng first dose tapos nagka-severe allergy ka so hindi ka na puwede sa second dose nun at kailangang isipin ngayon yung magiging alternative,” Domingo said during the Laging Handa briefing.

“Gumagawa na ng guidelines ngayon ang DOH kung paano ‘yung interchangeability or mixing ng vaccines in case the second dose cannot be given na identical doon sa first dose,” he added.

Domingo said this after President Rodrigo Duterte said he has requested China to recall the 1,000 doses of Sinopharm vaccines it donated following criticisms over his decision to receive a jab that has yet to secure an emergency use authorization from the FDA.

Duterte received his first dose of Sinopharm vaccine on Monday night.

Malacañang earlier said that the vaccine dose used on the president was covered by the compassionate special permit issued by the FDA for the Presidential Security Group.

DND’s Lorenzana backs Duterte remark on arbitral ruling on WPS vs China

Robie de Guzman   •   May 6, 2021

MANILA, Philippines – Department of National Defense (DND) Secretary Delfin Lorenzana on Thursday expressed agreement with President Rodrigo Duterte’s recent remark on the 2016 ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) favoring the Philippines in its case against China’s activities in the West Philippine Sea.

“What President Duterte said last night regarding the PCA ruling is correct,” Lorenzana said in a statement, referring to Duterte’s statement that nothing happened when he tried to assert the arbitral ruling on the Philippines’ rights in the resource-rich West Philippine Sea.

In a pre-taped public address on Wednesday night, Duterte said he tried to pursue the arbitral ruling when he came to power in 2016 but “nothing happened,” adding that the ruling was “just a piece of paper” that can be tossed into a waste basket.

Lorenzana said he agrees with the President when he said that there is no international law enforcement body that can enforce the ruling.

He, however, stressed that even without the PCA ruling, the Philippine government will still continue to defend “what is rightfully ours.”

“As I said in my previous statement, the President’s orders have been firm and straightforward: we defend what is rightfully ours without going to war and maintain the peace in the seas,” he said.

Lorenzana also said that Philippine Coast Guard and the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources will continue conducting maritime exercises in the West Philippine Sea and the Kalayaan Island Group.

The National Task Force on the West Philippine Sea earlier said that it has intensified maritime patrols in the West Philippine Sea after Chinese vessels were spotted lingering in areas within the Philippine exclusive economic zone.

The Department of Foreign Affairs have repeatedly filed diplomatic protests over Chinese incursions in the West Philippine Sea.

Duterte’s second Sinopharm COVID-19 vaccine dose won’t be returned to China – Roque

Robie de Guzman   •   May 6, 2021

MANILA, Philippines – President Rodrigo Duterte will still get his second dose of COVID-9 vaccine developed by Chinese drug-maker Sinopharm despite his request for China to take back the donated doses, Malacañang said Thursday.

“Siyempre po, di ibabalik yung second dose ng presidente, para matapos niya yung second dose niya,” Presidential Harry Roque said in a Palace briefing.

In a pre-taped Cabinet briefing on Wednesday night, Duterte defended his decision to be inoculated with a COVID-19 vaccine that has yet to undergo further evaluation and secure an emergency use authorization (EUA) from the local Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Duterte also stressed that his vaccination was legal as the Sinopharm vaccine dose he used was covered by the compassionate special permit (CSP) issued by the FDA.

He apologized for using a vaccine that has not been vetted by Philippine authorities then said that he had asked China to withdraw the donated Sinopharm doses.

“Ako mismo ang nagpaturok. It is the decision of my doctor. Anyway, it’s my life,” he said.

“Just before this meeting started, I had a talk with the ambassador. Sabi ko sa kanya, ang mga experts nagsabi, ‘Wala pa ito, hindi dumaan sa examination sa atin.’ Ang ibinigay ay compassionate use […] Ibig sabihin magamit mo compassionate,” he added.

Roque earlier said that the vaccine dose used on Duterte was covered by the PSG’s compassionate use permit for 10,000 Sinopharm vaccine doses.

The FDA earlier said that Sinopharm’s application for EUA remains pending as firms that have filed for its emergency use in the Philippines have yet to submit requirements.

“Ang problema po kasi sa Sinopharm, it is a state-owned corporation, hindi gaya ng Sinovac na isang private corporation kaya natatagalan ang proseso. Kasi kailangang magtalaga ng representante ang Sinopharm kung sino talaga ang maghahain ng mga papeles dito sa Pilipinas o sa FDA. Wala naman po itong prejudice to Sinopharm appointing an agent and complying with all the requirements of the FDA,” Roque said.

“Panatag naman po ang loob natin na maaaprubahan din ang EUA ng Sinopharm dahil Sinopharm is in use po in 25  25 countries worldwide at nakakuha na rin siya ng EUA in 25 other countries,” he added.

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