President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. (center) (OP photo)

MANILA – President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. on Saturday called for stronger collaboration to combat transnational crimes and improve access to affordable medicines and vaccines during the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Leaders’ Meetings with Australia and India in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

At the 2nd ASEAN-Australia Summit, Marcos expressed gratitude to Canberra for supporting the Bohol Trafficking in Persons (TIP) work plan, which aims to implement the ASEAN Convention on TIP, Especially Women and Children.

“This partnership will strengthen our regional responses and keep us in step with the constantly evolving schemes of transnational criminals and traffickers,” Marcos said.

He likewise urged his fellow ASEAN leaders to work closely with India to ensure better access to medicines and vaccines, as the region recovers from the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) pandemic.

Delivering his intervention during the 19th ASEAN-India Summit, Marcos said the Southeast Asian nations must ensure better access to health services by securing cheaper medicines and vaccines from New Delhi.

“ASEAN friends, let us not miss the opportunity of having the pharmacy of the world as our close neighbor and dialogue partner. The high cost of life-saving medicines and vaccines are barriers to a healthy population,” Marcos said.

“Let us work closely with India in ensuring that our region has access to a sufficient volume of affordable, high-quality medicines and vaccines,” he added.

Economic development

Marcos then reiterated finding ways to ensure the region’s strong economic recovery despite the pandemic.

On the economic front, Marcos encouraged Australia’s continued collaboration with the ASEAN Technical and Vocational Education Training (TVET) Council.

As the inaugural chair of the ASEAN TVET Council from 2020-2022, Marcos said the Philippines anticipates increased training and scholarships between specialists and students.

It is in preparation for the anticipated conclusion of the ASEAN-Australia-New Zealand Free Trade Area upgrade, which will further encourage trade in services.

Marcos also sought to deepen engagement with India on blue economy, especially since the Indo-Pacific becomes a “theater of geopolitics and geoeconomics,” according to the Office of the Press Secretary (OPS).

“According to Marcos, ministers and senior officials must find the intersection between maritime security and economic prosperity cooperation in the Indo-Pacific, which should be balanced by shared concern of preventing further environmental degradation allowing the region’s marine ecosystem to thrive,” the OPS said.

Food security

To ensure food security, Marcos said the Philippines welcomes engagement with Australia on the implementation of the Strategic Plan for ASEAN Cooperation in Food, Agriculture and Forestry for 20016-2025.

“Food-resilience and food self-sufficiency are two of our very basic and foremost priorities in the Philippines. We need to protect the region and our countries from shocks on the global food value chain, as well as against the adverse effects of climate change,” he said.

Marcos expressed intent to work with India towards the implementation of the “ASEAN Multi-sectoral Framework on Climate Change: Agriculture and Forestry contributing to Food Security and Sustainable Development Goals,” in an effort to address the issue on fluctuations in rice and fertilizer supply and prices.

Addressing climate change

Marcos similarly called on his fellow leaders to counter the destructive effects of climate change.

He expressed hope for India’s continued support for the work of the ASEAN Center for Biodiversity (ACB) in mitigating biodiversity loss through management of ASEAN heritage parks.

He also invited Australia to strengthen its support to the ACB, the ASEAN’s lead institution in biodiversity conservation and promotion.

Marcos emphasized the Philippines’ commitment to maintain peace and security in the region, saying he looks forward to enhancing cooperation on maritime law enforcement and on combating illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, and marine debris. (PNA)