Rodrigo Duterte. Picture: REUTERS/ EZRA ACAYAN
Rodrigo Duterte. Picture: REUTERS/ EZRA ACAYAN

Manila — Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte says China remains a benefactor, as the Southeast Asian nation seeks to increase vaccine delivery from the mainland amid brewing tensions in disputed waters.

“China remains our benefactor,” Duterte said in a televised briefing on Monday evening. “Just because we have a conflict with China doesn’t mean to say that we have to be rude and disrespectful.”

Duterte made the comment after Philippine foreign affairs secretary Teodoro Locsin earlier on Monday, using his personal Twitter account, lashed at Beijing in an expletive-laced demand for China to remove ships from areas in the disputed South China Sea. Locsin on Tuesday apologised to China’s foreign minister Wang Yi “for hurting his feelings.”

Tensions between the two nations have risen in recent weeks, with the Philippines protesting against the presence of Chinese ships, which Beijing has maintained is normal and legitimate. The US has backed the Philippines, saying that China’s “maritime militia” threaten nations.

Duterte on Monday asked China to let Filipinos “fish in peace” in the South China Sea and said he never promised to retake disputed areas when he campaigned for president. At a 2016 election debate, Duterte said he would ride a jet ski to the South China Sea to personally stake claims if elected.

Vaccine supply

Coronavirus vaccine orders from India may be delayed to September from this quarter or be reduced as infections in the South Asian nation surge, Carlito Galvez, the Philippines’ vaccine tsar, said in Monday’s briefing. A supply deal for 30-million Novavax shots with the Serum Institute of India is the Philippines’ biggest.

Galvez said the government is negotiating for a monthly delivery of as many as 4-million doses from China’s Sinovac Biotech and 2-million shots of Russia’s Sputnik V. As many as 4-million doses of both vaccines may arrive this month, as the government aims to inoculate 2-million people in May, Galvez said. For the country to achieve herd immunity, 500,000 people must be vaccinated each day, he said.

While the country’s daily infections fall, use of intensive-care beds remains high, health secretary Francisco Duque said. Strong border control and compliance to quarantine protocols are needed to contain spread of more contagious variants, he said.

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