Duterte plans China visit to thank Xi Jinping for vaccines

When the pandemic "settles down," President Rodrigo Duterte will go to China to personally thank Chinese President Xi Jinping for their donation of vaccines against COVID-19.

"I intend to make a short visit to China to shake hands with Xi Jinping and personally thank him for this donation," Duterte said in a speech on Sunday, February 28.

Duterte was speaking at Villamor Air Base in Pasay City, where the 600,000 China-donated Sinovac vaccine doses arrived. It is the first vaccine shipment to the country for its mass vaccination program.

The vaccines were delivered at around 4:10 pm on Sunday, packed in a plane of the People's Liberation Army, China's military.

It is the same military that has been aggressively expanding China's territory in the West Philippine Sea, or the part of the South China Sea that belongs to the Philippines.

Vaccine diplomacy

The Philippines is the only country to receive the China-donated vaccines through a military plane, added Duterte.

"Yung iba kinukuha sa China. Dito, hinatid sa atin (The others, they had to get from China. Here, it was brought to us)," Duterte said.

Duterte hailed the donation as a product of the diplomatic shift towards China that he oversaw under his adminsitration.

"I convey my sincere gratitude to the Chinese people and the government of China for this gesture of friendship and solidarity, the hallmark of Philippine-China partnership," said Duterte.

In his speech at the same program, Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Huang Xilian only hoped for the friendly relations to bloom further.

"No winter lasts forever, every spring is sure to follow. I hope that China and the Philippines would beat the virus and resume a prosperous development at an early date. I hope that new progress would be made for the China-Philippines Partnership in the new era," Huang said.

Calling for confidence

Duterte then called on Filipinos to get vaccinated, in the face of dismal vaccine confidence in the country.

"To my fellow Filipinos, these vaccines are backed by science and deliberated by our Filipino experts. I encourage that you get vaccinated at the soonest possible time and be a partner in preventing the further spread of the disease," Duterte said.

A survey of the Octa Research Group showed a great number of Filipinos are still unwilling to have themselves vaccinated against the disease.

After speaking with 1,200 Filipino adults, the research group found only 19% of respondents said they would have themselves vaccinated.

The delivery on Sunday marks the beginning of the Philippines' mass vaccination program, which is the last to commence in Southeast Asia. – Rappler.com

Rambo Talabong

Rambo Talabong covers the House of Representatives and local governments for Rappler. Prior to this, he covered security and crime. He was named Jaime V. Ongpin Fellow in 2019 for his reporting on President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs. In 2021, he was selected as a journalism fellow by the Fellowships at Auschwitz for the Study of Professional Ethics.