MANILA – Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte promised on Friday to supply the communist guerrilla of the New People’s Army (NPA) with the vaccine against COVID-19 when it is available if they abandon the armed struggle until the end of the year.
“If you stop fighting for a while, until December, because my soldiers are busy with the response to the pandemic, I will give you the vaccine,” he said in a televised appearance announcing the new phases of de-escalation in the Philippines, which began strict confinement on March 15.
“After COVID-19, let’s fight again. I warn you, stop for a while and allow the normal process of recovery to the country,” said the president, who last year canceled the peace process with the communists and intensified the military offensive.
At the start of the pandemic, both the Philippine government and the NPA guerrillas declared a ceasefire so the military confrontation would not hinder the response to COVID-19, but the truce ended in mid-April after clashes between the parties when aid was being distributed in rural areas.
The president said his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping guaranteed the Philippines would be among the first nations to receive the vaccine when clinical trials are successfully completed.
Chinese companies Sinopharm and Sinovac are in charge of two of the world’s three most advanced COVID-19 vaccines, which have already started human trials, the last step before regulatory approval.
“Our first option to get out of this crisis is China,” said Duterte, who since coming to power has strengthened relations with Xi.
The president also said that when the vaccine is available, it will be the Armed Forces that will be in charge of distributing it to the entire population, with priority to the poorest, due to rampant corruption in local governments.
The president announced on Friday that the cities of Manila, Cebu and Zamboanga, as well as several provinces on the island of Luzon surrounding the capital – Batangas, Cavite, Rizal, Laguna and Bulacan – remain in “general quarantine.” This is an intermediate confinement phase that allows the partial recovery of economic activity but restricts movements between provinces.
The Philippines reached 89,374 infections on Thursday – of which 22,327 are still active – and nearly 2,000 deaths since the COVID-19 outbreak was announced in late January.