MODERATOR: (In progress) participating in today’s event. I would like first to welcome to the podium the Honorable Marie Sheilah “Honey” Lacuna-Pangan – to the mayor of Manila. Thank you. (Applause.)
LACUNA-PANGAN: Good afternoon, everyone. On behalf of the people of Manila, we would like to welcome the Honorable U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, officials from the U.S. Government, the United States Agency for International Development, and our friends from the department of health.
Countries from all corners of the world were stunned with unexpected influx of COVID-19 cases since 2019. But everybody worked hard to immediately develop systems to address the crisis, from tracing, treating, and preventing the spread of this virus among their countrymen. The city government of Manila, as the capital city of the Philippines with almost 2 million people, tried to respond to the pandemic by implementing (inaudible) COVID-19 –which stands for contain and delay COVID-19 – through lockdowns and curfews as the pandemic hit in early 2020.
We make the most out of our health cluster comprised of the city health department and six city-run hospitals to face the challenges to test, trace, and treat patients. In this instance, we saw more the importance of having allies and partners with whom we can forge and sustain relationship, partnership including the U.S. Government and USAID, to help our citizen get lifesaving care and access to the rollout of vaccines. We thank the U.S. Government for providing such extensive support to the city government of Manila.
With your help, we were able to administer more than 300 doses of COVID-19 vaccines through the deployment of mobile (inaudible) and donations of IT equipments to enhance our vaccine data reporting and management. We are proud to share that during the early phases of the nationwide vaccination rollout, we were actually one, if not the first among the local government units in the national capital region with the fastest vaccination rate. Again, we are grateful for your help.
We also appreciate the U.S. Government’s donation of BIDA campaign materials and the installation of hand hygiene stations in 16 health facilities. This has provided free hand-washing access to 290 people per day, thus giving Manileños additional layers of protection from COVID-19. USAID – the U.S. Department of Defense also provided more than 19,000 PPEs and essential medical supplies and 10,000 rapid antigen testing kits which helped us weather the last Omicron surge early this year. All these collaborations are in synch with the national government’s “prevent, detect, isolate, treat” reintegration and COVID-19 vaccination program.
We are honored and grateful to have the United States Government and USAID here with us today, and I would like to extend my warmest gratitude to Secretary Blinken and our U.S. Government partners for being our key ally during these most challenging times. And we hope that we can further enhance this partnership to ensure that our health systems are better equipped for the crisis of the future. We say welcome (in Filipino). Thank you and mabuhay.
Esteemed guests, friends, ladies, and gentlemen, let us now listen to the Honorable U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, good afternoon, everyone. Madam Mayor, thank you so much for that wonderful introduction. I have to say I think we’ve seen first-hand just a moment ago why Manila is so fortunate to have a former physician leading its COVID-19 response. Talk about constituent services – I think some of you saw the mayor administer a vaccine to a young child. That’s impressive.
And let me just give a special thanks as well to everyone who has been involved in fighting COVID in the Philippines, including those of you from the department of health, the Manila City Health Office, the Philippines Genome Center, the Bulacan Medical Center, the many community health care workers and other civil society leaders who stepped forward to save lives.
So I just had the opportunity to some of the extraordinary efforts underway to get shots into arms, particularly for children. In a few minutes, I’ll also get to meet some of the civil society leaders who have been involved in the Philippines response. They’re also alumni of American exchange programs like the Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative – known as YSEALI – and the International Visitors Leadership Program, something that we at the State Department are also very proud of. So we share in their nation’s pride in their public service.
The organizations that they lead are playing a critical role in fighting COVID-19 here in the Philippines.
To name just a couple two examples, Joie Cruz is the founder of a design agency. It’s called Limitless Lab. She and a group of other YSEALI alumni created AdaptPH, a nationwide campaign that encourages people to observe public safety protocols like wearing masks and social distancing. More than 240 local governments across the Philippines are now using her materials to try to flatten the curve of COVID cases.
Gabriel Billones is the co-founder of the Break the Fake Movement. That works to try to debunk disinformation that’s out there about the pandemic, about COVID-19. He partnered with our embassy here in Manila to create the “Media Civics Lab,” training elected officials to understand how disinformation threatens the pandemic response. Hundreds of officials are now better equipped to counter disinformation in their communities as a result of working in this partnership.
So there are many other stories that I could tell, but the main thing is this: The civil society leaders who are here with us are protecting people’s lives, protecting their livelihoods, and helping speed the Philippines’ recovery from COVID.
And we’re seeing very encouraging signs of that recovery all around us. More than 70 million Filipinos have been vaccinated. Infections have gone down. Fewer people who get COVID are hospitalized or dying from it. And soon, children will return to school in person.
But there is still work to do. There are approximately 2,500 new cases of COVID-19 each day all across the Philippines. Sixteen million people have received their booster shots. That’s a lot, but more need to get it if we’re going to stay protecting against all of the variants. Fewer than four million children ages 5 to 11 are fully vaccinated, and that’s about six million below where I know the Philippines wants to be. That’s why it was so encouraging just a moment ago to see all the children who are here, ready to get their vaccines.
As the Philippines continues to work to vaccinate people, to reduce the spread and save lives, my message is simple: The United States is with you.
We’ve been proud to have donated more than 33 million safe, effective vaccines to the Philippines, no political strings attached.
We’ve provided more than $50 million to your COVID-19 response to help train healthcare workers, to boost the vaccine rollout, to support the economic recovery.
We’re also providing supplies for the continued fight against COVID-19, and we have some here with us here today – testing kits, laboratory equipment. All of that will go to the Philippines Genome Center, the Bulacan Medical Center, and our other partners who are here with us today.
Ultimately – ultimately – we will end this pandemic and emerge better prepared for future health crises by working together not only across governments, but across private sectors and across civil society.
That’s the idea behind something we started called the Global Action Plan – we launched in February. And the idea was to identify the remaining gaps in global COVID response and then match countries that have unique capabilities to help fill those gaps. The Global Action Plan focuses on six key lines of effort: getting shots into arms, bolstering supply chains and their resilience, addressing the information gaps and dealing with misinformation, supporting healthcare workers, improving testing and treatments, and strengthening the global health security architecture for the long term because we know, even as we get through this pandemic, there will be more to come. And we have to learn all of the lessons from this experience to make sure that we’re better prepared, more effectively prepared next time to see if we can prevent – and if not prevent, prepare for and mitigate – any future pandemics.
If the world can make strong progress along those six lines of effort that I’ve described, we can end the acute phase of COVID-19. But that requires a great deal of coordination and cooperation among countries. No single one of us can do it alone. And that’s why strong health partnerships – like the one between the United States and the Philippines – are so critical.
So again, I simply want to thank everyone who contributed and continues to contribute to that partnership – simply put, if for the sake of people in both our countries and people around the world.
And now, Dr. Maria Rosario Vergeire from the department of health, the microphone is yours. Thank you. (Applause.)
MS VERGEIRE: Thank you very much for Honorable Secretary of State Antony Blinken – (in Filipino) – for being here and attending and joining us in this event. To our U.S. ambassador to the Philippines, MaryKay Carlson; to our USAID colleagues headed by acting Mission Director Betty Chung; to the acting health director, Katherine Tilout, our colleague Dr. Yolanda Oliveros; Dr. Ernesto Bontuyan, and also Ms. Consuelo Anonuevo; of course to our honorable mayor, our very good friend, very dynamic worker, Mayor “Honey” Lacuna-Pangan; and also to their Vice Mayor Yul Servo.
As the world embraces the new normal, the Department of Health continues to work tirelessly to ensure that the Filipino people are equipped with accurate health information, preventive health care services, treatment, and vaccination. Since 2020, we have received several donations from the United States to support the country’s COVID-19 prevention and control efforts: 33.6 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines through the COVAX facility; different equipment such as mechanical ventilators, ICU beds, and ultra-low freezers; and medicines and hospital supplies. We also received support to our sub-national laboratories for vaccine-preventable diseases. We have also received supplies and equipments coming from the World Health Organization.
Today we are pleased to witness the ceremonial turnover to the Philippines of these following laboratory equipments and medical supplies coming from the United States: one automated extraction machine for Bulacan Medical Center; 13,000 rapid antigen tests for the Bulacan Medical Center; (inaudible) COVID testing reagents for Philippine Genome Center; 5,000 test kits for the Manila health department; and assorted PPEs and 103 wash kits for the schools of the city of Manila.
These donations equate to a massive improvement of the capacity of our public health care system to deliver critical care as part of our arsenal in the fight against COVID-19. We express our sincerest gratitude to the United States Government for its unwavering assistance to the Philippines in responding to COVID-19 and protecting Filipinos with much-needed vaccines and technical assistance. Your support helped save the lives of many, many Filipinos. Today, the department of health has administered more than 168 million doses of vaccines. Our BIDA, Resbakuna, and now the Pinas Lakas campaign would not have been successful without your help. We cherish this longstanding health partnership, and we hope that this level of commitment is sustained beyond the COVID-19 pandemic.
In the next few months we will be working to meet Mr. President Bongbong Marcos’ directive, which is to vaccinate 90 percent of our senior citizens and also to administer at least 50 percent to our eligible population for these first booster shots. The department of health aims to achieve this in the first 100 days of this current administration, and your help would be of great aid. Recently, we just launched the Pinas Lakas campaign encouraging everyone to get fully vaccinated – Pinas Lakas campaign encouraging everyone to get fully vaccinated, particularly our senior citizens or our elderly population. We are working hand in hand with other national agencies, our local government units, and our public and private stakeholders, and of course our development partners including USAID, to help prepare our communities – especially our teachers and children – as we are opening our schools one hundred percent face to face this school year.
More than ever, the pandemic has also emphasized the importance of having universal health care for all, and as we aspire for our universal health care for all Filipino people, DOH is also grateful to USAID for providing technical assistance in preparing us for UHC’s rollout. The DOH, USAID, and others development partners are working collaboratively to establish the management, technical, and financing mechanisms for such an endeavor, strengthening local government capacity and providing technical resources to roll out this priority legislation here in the Philippines. We envision that with this cooperation with the U.S. Government and other partners, we can make health accessible to every Filipino in the coming years.
Further, we look forward to sustaining and expanding our partnership to ramp up booster vaccinations, better integrate COVID-19 activities with our universal health care efforts, and thus strengthen our health systems to prevent and respond to further pandemics in the future.
On behalf of the department of health, I would like to extend my most fervent gratitude to the United States Government helping the Philippines get back on its feet and build back better. The Filipino people will never forget the kindness you have shown during these trying times. (In Filipino.) Thank you very much.