Manila, April 20 (efe-epa).- United States President Donald Trump called his Philippine counterpart Rodrigo Duterte last night to discuss possible bilateral cooperation in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, at a time of tense relations between the two countries.
The call, which occurred Sunday night, was confirmed to local media by Senator Bong Go, Duterte’s best friend and former special adviser to the presidency, who did not elaborate on the conversation.
The United States is the country with the highest number of COVID-19 cases in the world, 735,366 and 39,095 deaths; while the Philippines is the country in Southeast Asia with the highest number of infections, 6,259 and 409 deaths.
The Philippines began massive tests last week to isolate positive, even asymptomatic, cases to contain the disease thanks to donations from China, South Korea and Brunei, in addition to having received a team of Chinese doctors to advise their Filipino colleagues in response to the pandemic.
The relationship between Trump and Duterte – whose ways of governing have often been deemed comparable – was going through a rut. This came after the US Senate passed a law in January that imposed sanctions for Filipino officials implicated in human rights violations in the drug war and in the “illegal detention” of opposition senator Leila de Lima.
Duterte responded in retaliation by suspending the troop visit agreement, key to close military cooperation between the two countries, and formally rejected Trump’s invitation for an official visit to Washington.
The United States has historically been the Philippines’ main ally – above all in terms of military cooperation, the fight against extremism and responses to natural disasters – but with Duterte coming to power in 2016, Philippine foreign policy was oriented toward China and Russia. EFE-EPA