Our Enduring Partnership: Working Together To Defeat COVID-19
by U.S. Ambassador to the Philippines Sung Y. Kim
Today’s global pandemic severely affects public health, economies and our daily lives. Yet even in these trying times, the resilience and courage of the Philippine people continue to inspire me. From the terrorist attack on Marawi, through devastating typhoons, to the Taal volcanic eruption, I have seen in every moment of challenge reflections of the strength of our partnership. I salute the brave frontline workers risking their lives and extend my deepest sympathies to those who have fallen victim to or lost a loved one to COVID-19.
Last week, Presidents Duterte and Trump reaffirmed their shared commitment to the U.S.-Philippine relationship and to prevailing over this pandemic. The United States has thus far provided more than Php470 million to support the Philippine’s COVID-19 response, in addition to 1,300 cots donated to the Office of Civil Defense and Philippine General Hospital. U.S. assistance is strengthening the capacity to detect, treat, and defeat the virus. This complements nearly Php30 billion in assistance we have provided over the past 20 years to improve health care in the Philippines.
This assistance is but one part of American support for our friends in the Philippines. American companies in the Philippines are doing their share in the fight against COVID. To cite a few examples, Ford is lending vehicles for medical use; UPS and FedEx are delivering critical supplies; Procter & Gamble and 3M are producing PPE; and Coca-Cola and Pepsi are supplying beverages for frontline workers. U.S. companies CapitalOne, Marriot, Dow, Cargill, AIG, Google, Airbnb, and Facebook are also providing assistance.
The beating heart of our friendship are the robust ties between individuals and families. These bonds are continuously strengthened and refreshed by a wide range of academic exchange programs bringing together scholars, policy-makers, entrepreneurs and innovators – in short, our future leaders. Each year, the U.S. Embassy sends more than 300 Filipinos to the United States on programs from economics to leadership to health. Upon return, these exchange alumni make extraordinary contributions to the Philippines. I would like to applaud some of those working to stop COVID-19.
Our flagship exchange program is Fulbright, and the Philippines hosts the oldest continually-running Fulbright Commission in the world. Drs. Beverly Lorraine Ho and Ronald Law are former Fulbright scholars supporting COVID-19 response efforts at the Department of Health (DOH). After studying Health Policy and Management at Harvard University, Dr. Ho now serves as Special Assistant to the Secretary for Universal Health Care. Dr. Law is Chief of the DOH’s Emergency Management Bureau Preparedness Division, where the research he conducted on enhancing health security at the University of Washington is more relevant than ever.
Dozens of Filipinos have pursued scientific degrees and conducted research under Fulbright and Hubert H. Humphrey Fellow scholarships. Dr. Vikki de los Reyes, Medical Specialist in the DOH’s Epidemiology Bureau; Dr. Mario Jiz, Head of the Immunology Department at the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine; and Dr. Maria Lourdes Otayza, Medical Center Chief at Mariano Marcos Memorial Hospital, are applying their exchange program experiences to combat COVID-19.
Perhaps what’s most inspiring to me are the exceptional initiatives of dynamic young Philippine alumni of the Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative (YSEALI), who are harnessing the skills and experience gained from their exchange programs to assist communities across the country. YSEALI Academic Fellow and Accessiwheels founder Miggy Bautista mobilized volunteers to provide critical transportation to medical facilities for chronically ill patients in Metro Manila. YSEALI alumna Cherrie Atilano launched the Move Food Initiative, which has helped more than 3,000 farmers in Luzon and Mindanao deliver produce to quarantined consumers. In Mindanao, U.S. Exchange Alumni Associations partnered with Coca-Cola Philippines and Unilab Foundation to supply water to frontline workers and military personnel. YSEALI Alumni also teamed up with band Ben&Ben to hold an online concert raising Php4.2 million for COVID-19 response.
To succeed against this pandemic, we all have a role to play: government, business, individuals. The Philippines can count on continued support from the U.S. government, U.S. businesses, and our incredible exchange alumni. For over a century, our two nations have met and overcome challenges together. I am confident that together, we will overcome this challenge as well.