Duterte calls for unity vs terrorism, pandemic in Aqaba Process meeting

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, on Wednesday, September 2, joined other world leaders in the Aqaba Process Virtual Meeting on COVID-19 Response, led by Jordan's King Abdullah II.

In his short speech aired in public online platforms after the meeting, Duterte said terrorism remains a threat even amid the raging coronavirus health crisis.

"COVID-19 has not quarantined terrorists. Local terrorist groups, such as the Abu Sayyaf, the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, and the New People’s Army of the Communist Party of the Philippines have been emboldened: They exploit the situation to serve their nefarious activities," said Duterte.

A week before the virtual meeting, back-to-back explosions in Jolo, Sulu, killed 14. The military has identified the Abu Sayyaf Group as behind the bombings. (READ: Duterte visists Jolo after blasts, urges troops to 'think about peace')

The Aqaba Process initiative, launched by King Abdullah II in 2015, is a series of meetings where world leaders discuss military and security cooperation and share expertise on combating security threats.

The virtual meeting on Wednesday was attended by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, Bulgarian President Rumen Radev and Prime Minister Boyko Borisov, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari, and Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama.

Also present were United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres and Interpol Secretary-General Jurgen Stock.

The meeting focused on the security implications of the pandemic.

Unity and cooperation

King Abdullah II stressed the importance of unity and cooperation.

Duterte echoed this, saying that "the path to recovery requires more openness, deeper solidarity, and stronger cooperation among nations."

The Philippine leader also said that in the face of his country's economic slump, he believes integrating economies has become even more important. The pandemic pushed the Philippines into recession after its economy contracted by an all-time low of 16.5% in the second quarter.

Calling economic self-sufficiency a "mirage," Duterte spoke of the Association of Southeast Asian Nation's efforts to harmonize trade regulations, promote the move of businesses to online selling platforms, and help small and medium enterprises reach new markets in the region.

"The key to shared prosperity is the free movement of goods, capital, and services, complemented with appropriate social safety nets. This is why we in ASEAN are drawing up a comprehensive recovery plan anchored on strengthening economic cooperation and supply chain connectivity," said Duterte.

Jordan's 'generous assistance'

In his speech, the President also thanked King Abdullah II for his "generous assistance" to the Philippine Air Force in fighting terrorism.

In November 2019, the Jordanian government delivered two secondhand Bell AH-1 Cobra attack helicopters, as promised by the King.

The donation, shepherded by National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr, was what supposedly convinced Duterte to tone down his tirades against Jordanian prince Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, the former United Nations human rights chief who criticized the Philippine leader for his bloody campaign against illegal drugs and threats against UN rapporteurs.

Duterte had called Zeid "empty-headed." The President had warned that if the helicopter donation didn't push through, he would resume his tirades against the Jordanian royal, who is the cousin of King Abdullah II. – Rappler.com

Pia Ranada

Pia Ranada covers the Office of the President and Bangsamoro regional issues for Rappler. While helping out with desk duties, she also watches the environment sector and the local government of Quezon City. For tips or story suggestions, you can reach her at pia.ranada@rappler.com.