Trump calls Duterte to discuss coronavirus response, says Palace

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte had a phone call with United States President Donald Trump about the novel coronavirus pandemic late Sunday night, April 19, according to Malacañang.

"It was cordial. It's about bilateral collaboration on COVID-19," said Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque, in a virtual press conference on Monday, April 20.

The coronavirus has infected more than 6,000 people in the Philippines and killed over 400. In the US, coronavirus cases have reached past 750,000 with nearly 41,000 dead – the highest figures worldwide.

The call, which Malacañang said was initiated by the US side, began at around 10 pm on Sunday and lasted 18 minutes.

Pressed for more details on what the two leaders discussed in relation to the pandemic, Roque told Rappler that Duterte did not want any more specific information released to the public.

On Tuesday, April 21, the US embassy in Manila confirmed the call between Duterte and Trump, saying both leaders "agreed to continue working together as long-time allies to defeat the pandemic, save lives, and restore global economic strength."

Trump, the US embassy said, also offered additional assistance to the Philippines to aid in combating the outbreak. So far, the US has given nearly P203.9 million ($4 million) in health assistance to help the Philippines, among others.  

Aside from this, Trump expressed his condolences for the death of 11 Filipino soldiers who were recently killed in a clash with the Abu Sayyaf in Sulu. 

The US embassy said the two Presidents discussed how the two countries "can continue building upon the strong and enduring economic, cultural, and security ties binding the two nations." 

In a separate statement on Tuesday, Philippine Ambassador to the US Jose Manuel Romualdez said he would continue to work closely with the US government to deliver on Duterte and Trump’s pledge to continue bilateral cooperation amid the pandemic. 

Romualdez and Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr were also "pleased" Duterte and Trump agreed to further strengthen longstanding ties between the two countries.

Earlier this year, Philippines-US relations hit a low when Duterte decided to walk away from the decades-old Visiting Forces Agreement after the US government cancelled the visa of his ally, Senator Ronald Dela Rosa. Dela Rosa was Duterte’s first police chief and is known as the architect of the administration’s controversial and bloody drug war. 

What has Duterte said about US coronavirus response? A week before his phone call with Trump, Duterte publicly complained about how the US' response to the pandemic was affecting the Philippines.

He bemoaned a newly announced US policy of granting visas to Filipino nurses and medical workers to augment the western country's response operations, saying this could drain the Philippines of the health workers it needs to wage its own battle against COVID-19.

"Ang problema, itong Amerikano, you could have relied on your own human resource. Ibig sabihin, dapat kayo umasa sana sa sariling mga tao ninyo. Eh ngayon, kinukuha, kinakaltasan mo ang Pilipinas," said Duterte in a televised address on April 13.

(The problem is, these Americans, you could have relied on your own human resource. Meaning, you should depend on your own people. Now, you're taking from the Philippines.)

Last April 16, the US State Department announced the Trump administration's plan to help international response to the spread of the coronavirus. Dubbed the SAFER package, it is supposed to harness US expertise and resources to improve capabilities of its international partners in managing the pandemic. – with reports from Sofia Tomacruz/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.

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