Remarks of Former Speaker JOSE DE VENECIA, Founding Chairman and Chairman of Standing Committee, International Conference of Asian Political Parties (ICAPP) Co-Chairman, International Association of Parliamentarians for Peace (IAPP); Special Envoy of the President to the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) and for Intercultural Dialogue at the ICAPP Special Conference on May 22, 2020.
Topic: The Impact of the COVID-19 and the Role of the Asian Political Parties
Excellencies, Dear Friends:
The 21st Century can be described as a period of transformations, a stage of epochal changes.
Every aspect of ordinary life is being challenged: our security by extremist terrorism; conventional economics by the unintended consequences of globalization; accustomed politics by a great wave of populist rebellion; familiar environment by climate change; and most recently, our health and well-being by a deadly global plague.
Global Impact of Coronavirus
As of today, the Covid-19 pandemic has infected some 4.8 million people and claimed more than 320,000 human lives in 216 countries and territories worldwide, and they are increasing.
The pandemic has also slowed down global trade and tourism as a result of the lockdown imposed by our respective countries in order to contain the spread of the virus. The move is necessary as lives are of utmost importance, but it has resulted in economic downturn, massive unemployment and loss of livelihood.
The World Trade Organization (WTO), in a report last April 8, 2020, stated the following:
“(1) World merchandise trade is set to plummet by between 13 and 32% in 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic;
“(2) Nearly all regions will suffer double-digit declines in trade volumes in 2020, with exports from North America and Asia hit hardest;
“(3) Trade will likely fall steeper in sectors with complex value chains, particularly electronics and automotive products;
“(4) Services trade may be most directly affected by COVID-19 through transport and travel restrictions;
“(5) A 2021 recovery in trade is expected, but dependent on the duration of the outbreak and the effectiveness of the policy responses.”
For its part, the U.N. World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), in a statement last May 7, 2020, said that “international tourism was down 22%” during the first quarter of this year “and could decline by 60-80% over the whole year,” that would result in the loss of millions of jobs worldwide.
It added that “arrivals in March dropped sharply by 57% following the start of a lockdown in many countries, as well as the widespread introduction of travel restrictions and the closure of airports and national borders. This translates into a loss of 67 million international arrivals and about US$80 billion in receipts (exports in tourism).”
The World Trade Organization, however, pointed out that “If countries work together, we will see a much faster recovery than if each country goes it alone.”
A ‘Borderless’ World
Dear friends: The state of the world today is far different than what it was when it last experienced a pandemic of this magnitude, which many say is the so-called “Spanish flu” in 1918, which reportedly killed some 40 million people worldwide.
Today, global supply chains, rising technology, and unparalleled tourism, among others, have in essence rendered our world “borderless.”
We now live in a global community and face a unique set of challenges and opportunities. Defeating Coronavirus, therefore, requires global effort.
Solidarity and Cooperation in the Battle Against Covid-19
In the face of this deadly threat which transcends national, regional and even hemispheric boundaries, there is a greater need for regional organizations like ours, the International Conference of Asian Political Parties (ICAPP), to promote solidarity and cooperation among countries, as no nation can solely face this global health emergency.
Our role as political parties is essential as we serve as the vehicles of people’s participation and aspirations. We constitute the government and parliament. We are the bridge between policy and people.
We must work together if we are to contain, and surmount, this gigantic clear and present lethal danger to the health and well-being of the peoples around the world and the global economy.
ICAPP to Facilitate Sharing of Information and Best Practices
We in ICAPP, through the Seoul-based ICAPP Secretariat headed by the able and hardworking Secretary General Park Ro-byug, can facilitate the sharing of information, experience and best practices among countries in the fight against Covid-19 and other pandemics and health emergencies that may arise in the future.
Through ICAPP, our respective countries can also exchange strategies and measures on rebuilding lives, communities and economies that have been shattered by the Coronavirus scourge, as it is the next gargantuan challenge to countries and the international community.
Perhaps our 350 member-political parties may serve as our “contact points” in the 52 countries in Asia.
Cooperation Among International Organizations
Dear friends: We are pleased to point out that last April 14, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) and the Asean Plus Three (China, South Korea and Japan) conducted a video conference on how to strengthen cooperation, especially in the areas of health and economy, in battling the Covid-19.
We have seen similar efforts by other regional organizations like the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), European Union (EU), African Union (AU), and our ICAPP partner-organization, the Permanent Conference of Political Parties of Latin America and the Caribbean (COPPPAL).
The International Association of Parliamentarians for Peace (IAPP), where we are privileged to serve as Co-Chairman with former 30-year U.S. Congressman Dan Burton, is also undertaking ways and means of cooperation among parliamentarians in the fight against the Coronavirus plague.
Economic Stimuli Alongside Health and Safety Measures
We also wish to underscore the importance of fiscal incentives and economic programs to be tackled alongside safety and health measures by governments and parliaments around the world.
In my country, the Philippines, our government has declared a state of health emergency and placed our nation’s capital, Metro Manila, and other areas of the country, under lockdown since midnight of March 15 to curb the spread of Covid-19. Strict measures, like curfew from 8 PM to 5 AM daily, have been enforced.
Community quarantine facilities for Coronavirus patients who are asymptomatic and with mild symptoms as well as for persons who may be required to undergo the mandatory 14-day quarantine; and Covid-19 testing laboratories have been established in Metro Manila and across the country, through partnerships between the government and private sector.
Through the law that our Congress enacted, called the “Bayanihan to Heal as One,” the government is spending Two Hundred Seventy-Five Billion Pesos (P275 billion) or some Five point Forty-Three Billion Dollars (US$5.43 billion) to provide emergency cash aid for two months to 18 million low-income families; grant wage subsidies to embattled local workers and overseas Filipino workers who have lost their jobs due to the worldwide pandemic; give health workers a special risk allowance; and provide financial assistance for the medical costs of Filipinos who are infected by the Coronavirus.
An economic stimulus package, amounting to One point Seventy-Four Trillion Pesos (P1.74 trillion) or some Thirty-Four point Thirty-Five Billion Dollars (US$34.35 billion) is being discussed to address the impact of the pandemic on the country’s economy.
The planned program includes funding for health care, education, agriculture and infrastructure; and providing assistance to distraught Filipino workers and businesses, especially the micro, small and medium enterprises.
Our President Rodrigo Duterte also offered a reward of Fifty Million Pesos (P50 million) or around One Million Dollars (US$1 million) to embolden Filipino scientists who are trying to develop a vaccine against Covid-19.
The Philippines has also joined 100 other countries in the “Solidarity Trial” spearheaded by the World Health Organization (WHO) to test the safety and effectiveness of possible vaccines that can treat Covid-19.
The World Will Never Be The Same Again
Dear friends: Medical experts say that the Coronavirus “may never go away and peoples around the world will have to learn to live with it.”
Indeed, the post-Covid-19 world will never be the same again.
Strength in Unity and a Sense of Shared Purpose
Excellencies, dear friends: “These are the times that test men’s souls” wrote philosopher and political theorist Thomas Maine.
In these moments of enormous challenge and uncertainty, we seek strength in unity—and a sense of shared purpose born out of our common history.
Today, we join hands, and together, we shall overcome this pandemic. Together, we shall triumph over this global crisis. Together, we shall see the dawning of a better future for our peoples, countries, and the world.
Thank you and good day.