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US willing to share COVID-19 vaccine to allies: PH defense dep’t

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MANILA – The United States is willing to share any vaccine against the new coronavirus to its allies once available, the Philippines’ defense department said Sunday.

US Defense Secretary Mark Esper and his Philippine counterpart Delfin Lorenzana held a conference call last Friday, during which the former “mentioned that developments on vaccines and therapeutics in the US are making very good progress.”

Esper “expressed their willingness to share them (vaccines and therapeutics) with US allies and partners once available,” the Department of National Defense said in a statement.

Manila and Washington are treaty allies under the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty.

In their conversation, Lorenzana expressed appreciation for the medical assistance and donations of the US government to the Philippines in response to the COVID-19 crisis.

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China had also said it would prioritize to give its “friendly neighbor,” the Philippines, a vaccine against COVID-19 once it becomes available.

Chinese President Xi Jinping assured President Rodrigo Duterte of Beijing’s commitment on the vaccine in a phone conversation last Thursday.

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The SARS-CoV-2, the new strain of virus that causes COVID-19, was first detected in the Chinese city of Wuhan last year.

The Philippines recorded its first COVID-19 case last Jan. 30 in a Chinese woman who arrived from Wuhan. As of June 13, the country has logged 25,392 confirmed COVID-19 cases, including 5,706 recoveries and 1,074 deaths.

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Esper also expressed appreciation for the DND’s support for the Philippine government’s decision to suspend the termination of the Visiting Forces Agreement, the agency said.

Earlier this month, the government suspended the abrogation of the VFA with the US “in light of political and other developments in the region.”

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The termination of the VFA, a pact signed in 1998 to govern the conduct of American forces in the country, was initiated by the Philippines in February on orders of Duterte after the US visa of his ally and former chief implementer of the government’s war on drugs, Sen. Ronald “Bato” Dela Rosa, was cancelled.

The abrogation would have taken effect 180 days after Manila served the notice to the US embassy.

Esper and Lorenzana also discussed the security situation in the South China Sea, counter-terrorism, and logistics cooperation, particularly on the capability upgrade of the Philippine military, the DND said.

“Both sides committed to sustain dialogues amidst the pandemic and strengthen cooperation between the two defense establishments,” it said.