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Duterte Visit Opens New Chapter In PH-Russia Relations
Philippine President Rodrigo R. Duterte meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin for the first time. (AP | Manila Bulletin file photo)
May 20th, 2017 | 08:54 AM | 1510 views
President Duterte will make a landmark visit to Russia next week to forge a “stronger partnership” in the fields of defense and security, trade and investment, and peaceful use of nuclear energy, among others.
FOREIGN POLICY SHIFT – Philippine President Rodrigo R. Duterte meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin for the first time. (AP | Manila Bulletin)
He will be the third Filipino head of state to set foot in Russia but is the first to go there on official visit upon the invitation of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The unorthodox Dutere is also the only Filipino Chief Executive eyeing stronger mutual defense ties with the world rival of the Philippines’ traditional ally, the United States.
“It will be the first visit of the President to Russia and we believe it will mark a new chapter in Philippine-Russia relations,” Assistant Secretary Maria Cleofe Natividad of the Department of Foreign Affairs said in a Palace press briefing yesterday.
“We consider this visit as a landmark that will send a strong message of the Philippines’ commitment to seek new partnerships and strengthen relations with non-traditional partners such as Russia,” she said.
“It is for this reason that the theme of the visit is ‘Building a Stronger Partnership, a New Chapter in Philippine-Russia Relations,” she said.
Despite the establishment of Philippine-Russia ties almost 41 years ago, Natividad said the bilateral engagement has remained at “a nascent stage” in almost all areas of cooperation. “The relations can be best described as cordial albeit modest in scope and depth,” she noted.
The President’s schedule in Russia would be “substantive,” Natividad said which includes meetings with Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev on May 24 and Putin on May 25.
Duterte will be accompanied by an entourage of mostly Cabinet officials, top defense and trade executives, Congress leaders and the country’s business leaders during his May 23-26 visit.
He is scheduled to meet with the Filipino community in Moscow and will have a side trip to St. Petersburg where he will visit a military shipyard and attend a business forum.
Natividad disclosed that the meeting with Filipinos had been originally scheduled at the Four Season’s Hotel but may be moved to a bigger venue because of the “increasing number” of Filipinos requesting participation. Filipinos from nearby countries have also requested to see Duterte, she shared.
There are about 5,000 Filipinos based in Russia, 75 percent of who are strong supporters of Duterte as shown by the results of the 2016 absentee voting.
Duterte and Putin are expected to sign bilateral agreements relating to defense cooperation, military and technical cooperation, mutual legal assistance on criminal matters, peaceful use of nuclear energy, culture and trade and investment.
“We believe that the President’s visit will be the start of a strong and enduring partnership between the Philippines and Russia that is multi-dimensional, mutually beneficial and will be in keeping with the principles of sovereignty, non-interference, and equality,” she said. “The agreement on military technical cooperation will pave the way for the Philippines to explore the possibility of procurement for the military from Russia,” said Natividad.
Prior to Duterte’s ascent to power, the United States has been the preferred choice of the Philippines as the two countries are bound by the Mutual Defense Treaty and related agreements.
“There is really nothing that would stop Russia from participating in the modernization program, defense modernization program of the Philippines,” she said.
“(Defense) Secretary Lorenzana has already mentioned that the Philippines is looking for partnership with countries wherein we can get the best deals and also the ones that would be most compatible with the defense needs of the Philippines especially in the aspect of interoperability,” she added.
“As you are aware, the Russian warships have already visited the Philippines twice this year so it is more into that aspect of becoming more familiar with each other’s competence. There is no discussion at the moment in terms of joint exercises or visiting forces,” Natividad stated.
“Both the Philippines and Russia recognize that there is a need to explore the many untapped opportunities for mutual beneficial economic cooperation,” said Natividad as she disclosed that an “impressive business delegation” from the Philippines will participate in the PH-Russia Business Forum in Moscow.
“The forum would be an opportune time to share with Russian companies the benefits of doing business in the Philippines and the very positive investment climate, especially in such areas as infrastructure, energy, transportation, tourism, and others,” the foreign affairs official stated.
According to Natividad, Russian investments in the country “are very modest” and the President can be expected to “correct that.”
In 2016, bilateral trade between Russia and Philippines totaled only $220 million, with the Philippines suffering an export deficit for trading of only $49 million.
Tourism is also an avenue which the Philippines needed to explore vigorously as only 38,000 tourist arrivals from Russia were recorded last year.
The Philippines and Russia have been nurturing diplomatic relations for nearly 40 years now. It was the late Foreign Affairs Secretary and former Senate President Blas F. Ople who vigorously pursued friendly relationship with the Russians.
Natividad said the presidential trip is consistent with his “pursuit for an independent foreign policy.”
“An independent foreign policy does not mean it will diminish our partnership, our relations with our traditional partners. We are seeking to enrich our partnership with counties that share mutual interest with us and with whom we can pursue our national interest,” said Natividad, who represents DFA’s Office of European Affairs.
Natividad said the country’s defense cooperation pact with Russia covers greater opportunities for consultation and cooperation in security related matters such as fighting terrorism and transnational crimes, particularly drug trafficking. The two nations are expected to open their respective defense offices both in Moscow and in Manila.
The President is also expected to share his views on attaining peace and security in the Asia-Pacific region during a policy speech at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations, according to Natividad.
courtesy of MANILA BULLETIN
by Genalyn Kabiling and Ben Rosario
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