Relations between Manila and Moscow are on the upswing, President Rodrigo Duterte said, but comments in the Russian media about the way he was dressed at a formal meeting with the country’s prime minister may have overshadowed the diplomatic accomplishment.
Duterte, who met with Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev on Wednesday, noted “remarkable progress in our engagement, including such strategic areas as defense and security,” according to official transcripts of their discussion that were released on Thursday.
Duterte noted last year’s first-ever visit by a Philippine navy ship to Vladivostok.
“This was unthinkable just a few years back, yet we did it and more firsts are to follow,” Duterte said.
“We now have a consultative mechanism where we explore ways to expound our cooperation in various areas including trade and investment, defense and security, energy, science and technology, among others,” he said. “We are intent on sustaining this momentum.”
Seeking ‘agile foreign policy’
The meeting was tied to Duterte’s move to be less reliant on the United States, a traditional ally with which Manila has a mutual defense treaty that stretches nearly seven decades.
“The trip to Russia is part of his independent foreign policy,” Ramon Casiple, founder of the Institute for Political and Electoral Forum, told BenarNews.
In a speech before departing for Moscow, Duterte said it was important to create new relationships.
“[Geopolitical] realities and global developments require that nations like ours should have an agile foreign policy. While it is true that we value our long-standing partners, we must also be open to engage new ones,” Duterte said.
“For the longest time, we have placed key nations at the margins of our foreign policy, failing to fully explore the potentials of mutually beneficial cooperation,” he said. “With our independent foreign policy, we can say with much optimism that these are new and promising times.”
Since Duterte took office in 2016, government officials have said that the Philippines would not abandon ties with the U.S. even as his administration increased engagements with Russia and China. The president has made several trips to Beijing, as well as set aside an international court’s 2016 ruling in favor of Manila over disputed areas in the South China Sea.
Medvedev, who met the Philippine president at a summit of East Asian leaders shortly after Duterte assumed power, said bilateral relations had warmed up. Trade between the two nations had grown during the past two years, he noted.
“And our task is to strengthen this trend,” Medvedev said, according to the transcript.
In what appeared to be a dig at Washington, Medvedev said he was pleased to welcome Duterte to Russia’s version of the White House “but this is not the same White House as in that other country.”
“It is the Russian house of government. It’s a little bit bigger than the White House that we all know, and better,” Medvedev said as both leaders posed for photographers.
‘Did he just leave the pub?’
During his state visit to Russia, Russian and European media commented about the Philippine president’s state of dress during such formal occasions.
In a photograph posted by Russia’s state-owned news agency and widely shared on social media, Duterte was pictured with the knot of his tie loosened and a crumpled-looking collar. By contrast, Medvedev wore his tie in a tight knot and donned a buttoned-up tailored suit.
Czech journalist Pavel Vondra tweeted on Thursday that Duterte “showed up a bit unkempt.”
He noted that members of the Russian media were posting comments such as “Did he drink all night?” and “Did he just leave the pub?”
Casiple, the Philippine analyst, said Duterte had a health issue that affected his appearance.
“As for his wardrobe, remember that he has a throat problem. He cannot have a tight collar,” Casiple said.
Philippine presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo also came to Duterte’s defense, saying: “His loosened tie was not intended to disrespect the Russian leader.
“He loosened it up. He feels suffocated and very uncomfortable.”
Duterte, according to Panelo, is “hygienic.”
“His body emits a refreshing scent as observed by people who meet him up close,” Panelo said.