Philippines: Is China A Friend In Times Of Need?

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi (R) and Philippine Foreign Affairs secretary Teodoro Locsin (L) attend a meeting in Manila on 16 January, 2021. (AFP Photo)

It is often in times of hardships, crisis, and difficulties, that one learns who one’s real friends are. Tough times have a way of revealing who you can count on for support. Thus far, this has been depicted in how both, the Philippines and China have expressed and demonstrated their deepening and warming friendship and understanding between each other. 

Despite differences and even some disagreements on some issues surrounding the disputed waters of the South China Sea (SCS), China is continuously showing its goodwill to the Philippines and vice-versa. 

Notwithstanding the many fake news, half-truths, and black propaganda against China and the “under siege” narrative by some “Sinophobic” political personalities, time and again, China has not failed to extend a helping hand to the Philippines not only through trade, commerce and investments, but also in the Philippines’ fight against the coronavirus pandemic. 

China’s Contributions 

Some of the major contributions of the Chinese to the pandemic response of the Philippines include the continuous extension of well-needed livelihood and medical supplies to the Philippines through multi-channels. In terms of medical supplies and equipment, thus far, it has provided the Philippines with 150 sets of high-flow humidifiers, 130 ventilators, 252,000 test kits, and over 1.8 million pieces of personal protective equipment (PPE). 

Also, a large number of Chinese local government agencies, as well as enterprises and civil groups, have donated nearly 10 million pieces of PPE and other medical supplies to different local government units in the country. 

On top of that, the Chinese Embassy and consulates have donated more than 40,000 “Friendship Packages” containing assorted relief goods to Filipino families in need across the country to help them get through the economic crisis brought about by the pandemic. 

China also donated RMB4 million (approximately PHP28.8 million or US$617,388) worth of disaster relief materials to disaster-stricken areas affected by the “Rolly” and “Ulysses” super typhoons, directly benefiting more than 200,000 Filipinos. Also, the Chinese Embassy in Manila donated over 2,000 Huawei tablets to the Department of Education (DepEd) in support of the country’s implementation of the blended distance learning program.  

It can also be noted that since the country’s fight against the coronavirus pandemic intensified, securing COVID-19 vaccines has become the main priority for the Philippine government. However, a global vaccine supply shortage and hoarding of vaccines by rich western countries has made the sourcing of vaccines a complicated process. Thankfully, China has extended its helping hand to the Philippines.  

First Batch Of COVID-19 Vaccines

Indeed, after a long wait, Malacañang has confirmed the arrival of the first batch of China’s Sinovac Biotech vaccines in the Philippines today (28 February). This is the first batch of COVID-19 vaccines to arrive in the country. This is on top of the 25 million doses of Sinovac vaccines secured by the Philippine government. 

According to Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque, a total of 600,000 vaccine doses donated by the Chinese government to the country will arrive this Sunday. From the 600,000 donated Sinovac vaccines, 500,000 will be allocated for front-liners, while the remaining 100,000 will be for the military. 

The donation is part of the commitment made by Chinese State Councillor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi to support Manila’s pandemic response during his official visit to the Philippines on 15 January.  

The arrival of the Sinovac vaccines this Sunday (28 February) will kickstart the immunisation program to curb the pandemic in the Philippines, which according to Roque can begin as early as 1 March (Monday). 

The arrival of the Sinovac vaccines is timely as it comes on the heels of the signing of the COVID-19 Vaccination Program Act of 2021 by President Rodrigo Duterte on 26 February. The landmark legislation is expected to expedite the procurement and administration of vaccines in the fight against COVID-19. The Act also includes the creation of an indemnity fund to cover compensation for those who experience serious adverse effects to the vaccine.

Roque also said that President Duterte will personally witness the arrival of the Sinovac vaccines donated by China. This is in recognition of the assistance provided by China to the Philippines amid the prevailing coronavirus pandemic. 

“We Filipinos are keen on showing our debt of gratitude. Our friend, China, was the first to send vaccines in our time of need,” Roque added. 

China’s ambassador to Manila, Huang Xilian revealed that both, the Chinese and Philippine governments have “worked round the clock” to facilitate the on-time delivery of the Sinovac vaccines this Sunday. He added that “it is a fine tradition between China and the Philippines to help each other in trying times. 

The Chinese ambassador further reiterated that such an act on the part of China serves as a testament to the “solidarity as well as profound friendship and partnership” between the two nations. 

“Our friendship and partnership amid this pandemic will continue to grow and prosper as we fight against the pandemic hand in hand,” he added.

Time and again, China has demonstrated its sincerity and goodwill as a friend of the Philippines that can be relied upon for support in times of need despite all the noise coming from Sinophobic political personalities in the country. 

Vaccine Hesitancy And Paranoia

With the imminent arrival of COVID-19 vaccines in the country, the challenge at the moment for the Philippines is to raise the level of trust and to convince Filipinos to come forward and be inoculated.

Given the high level of vaccine hesitancy and paranoia among Filipinos, the massive fake news, misleading information, and half-truths about COVID-19 vaccines especially against those vaccines developed and manufactured by the Chinese like Sinovac is not helping at all. All these, to a greater extent, have somewhat instilled fear, apprehension, and confusion in the hearts and minds of Filipinos, aggravating further the level of vaccine hesitancy and paranoia in the country. 

Sinovac

For the national vaccination program to be successful, Filipinos need to believe that the Philippine government is doing its best to procure vaccines regardless of brand names that are not only cost-efficient but highly effective. 

Filipinos should be aware of the fact that all vaccines that enter the country will go through rigorous checking, careful evaluation, and painstakingly thorough regulatory review procedures by a panel of experts and by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) even before they are given authorisation or approval for use to ensure safety and efficacy. 

Filipinos must trust the process and the experts in charge of ensuring that all vaccines, regardless of brand names and countries of origin, are safe and effective even before inoculation. 

In the case of Sinovac, it was no less than the Department of Health (DOH) Undersecretary Dr Maria Rosario Vergeire who said that the vaccine was “thoroughly reviewed” by the DOH, the FDA, the National Immunization Technical Advisory Group (NITAG), and the DOH Technical Advisory Group (TAG). 

“The EUA (Emergency Use Authority) of FDA establishes the safety and efficacy of Sinovac and our experts have ruled that Sinovac’s 100 percent efficacy rate in preventing moderate and severe cases is indeed sufficient to meet the goal of reducing deaths – protections that we want to afford foremost to our health care workers,” said Vergeire. 

The FDA recently cleared the Sinovac vaccine for emergency use and it is the third vaccine brand to receive EUA after the Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines.

Sinovac Biotech General Manager Helen Yang in a press briefing also shared that, thus far no fatalities or severe side effects were reported from the 12 countries using the Sinovac vaccine. According to Yang, the common side effect is muscle pain in the area where the vaccine was injected due to the aluminium hydroxide which is adjuvant in the vaccine, and would disappear after a day. 

Just to note, Sinovac had been used for the inoculation of more than 40 million Chinese since June 2020, and thus far, there have been no adverse effects or deaths related to the vaccine. Among the world leaders who have been inoculated with Sinovac include Turkey’s President Tayyip Erdogan, Indonesian President Joko Widodo and Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam.

Source: Department of Health, Philippines

Sinovac Biotech received conditional commercial approval from China’s National Medical Products Administration for its COVID-19 vaccine in China recently. It is the second COVID-19 vaccine approved for public use in China aside from the state-owned China National Pharmaceutical Group (Sinopharm), which was approved in December 2020.

In the Philippines, Sinovac is recommended for “clinically healthy individuals ages 18 to 59”. The Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) has also approved the administration of Sinovac to front-line medical workers. 

Last Friday, the IATF-EID approved NITAG’s and DOH-TAG’s recommendation for the use of Sinovac vaccines for health care workers, though the Philippine government will not coerce medical front-liners to receive shots of Sinovac if they don’t want to. 

However, the Sinovac vaccine is not allowed to be administered to senior citizens at the moment.  Sinovac thus far has a 91.2-percent efficacy rate among clinically healthy individuals aged 18 years to 59 years and a 50.4-percent efficacy rate among health care workers exposed to COVID-19.

Conclusion

China’s goodwill to the Philippines is indeed a manifestation of how it values its friendship and understanding with the Philippines despite some differences. 

Filipinos need to understand that it is only by getting vaccinated that one can protect oneself and other people around him/her from getting infected by the coronavirus. The Filipino public must understand that it is only through vaccination that the spread of the virus can be contained. Only a successful vaccination program can help the country recover and win the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Hence, Filipinos should participate in the national vaccination program as it is the safest and quickest way to build herd immunity. COVID-19 vaccines are the most viable, potent tool available at the moment to stop the pandemic.

Source: The ASEAN Post
https://theaseanpost.com/article/philippines-china-friend-times-need

Anna Rosario Malindog-Uy

Anna Rosario Malindog-Uy is Professor of Political Science, International Relations, Development Studies, European Studies, SEA and China Studies. She is a researcher-writer, academic and consultant on a wide array of issues. She has worked with the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and other local and international NGOs as a consultant. She is President of Techperformance Corp, an IT-based company in the Philippines.