Protesters hold placards at a protest against US-Philippine military exercises on Feb. 21. (Photo: Basilio Sepe/AFP)
The US embassy in the Philippines has confirmed that Washington will give an additional 298 million pesos (US$5.9 million) in aid to Manila to fund the country’s fight against Covid-19.
The humanitarian assistance follows a telephone call between the leaders of the two countries last month.
President Rodrigo Duterte and US President Donald Trump spoke to discuss bilateral cooperation on how to defeat the novel coronavirus.
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque told reporters that the call was between “longtime allies to defeat the [coronavirus] pandemic, save lives and restore global economic strength.”
The US had previously given US$4 million to pay for personal protective equipment to help prevent Filipino health workers from being infected by the virus.
Duterte’s acceptance of US aid follows a period of tension between the countries with the Philippine president threatening to end a 20-year-old military agreement with the US earlier this year.
He had threatened to terminate the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) after the White House canceled the visa of former police chief, now Senator Ronaldo dela Rosa, due to alleged human rights violations. Dela Rosa is known to be a longtime ally of Duterte.
“If you do not do the correction [reinstate the visa], I will terminate the basis of the Visiting Forces Agreement. I will finish that son of a bitch,” Duterte said in a speech in January.
The VFA has been seen as vital in cracking down on terrorism by providing Philippine authorities with intelligence and surveillance reports such as when Islamic militants tried to establish a caliphate by occupying the city of Marawi in the southern Philippines in 2017.
Meanwhile, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines has released a statement in support of ABS-CBN, the country’s biggest broadcasting network.
The bishops’ conference described the network’s closure as a loss of “one of the country’s major sources of information and entertainment, which is crucial to the people in this present [pandemic] situation.”
“These days our people truly need more than ever broadcast services that would bring them much-needed information in this time of crisis.”
As of May 7, the Philippines had recorded 10,343 Covid-19 cases with 685 deaths, according to government figures.