Philippines’ Duterte Prepares for Visit to Russia

Felipe Villamor
2017.05.19
Manila
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170519-PH-russia-620.jpg Russian President Vladimir Putin (right) meets with his Philippine counterpart Rodrigo Duterte on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit in Lima, Peru, Nov. 19, 2016.
AFP

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte will seek to join what he has termed as a new world order that also involves China when he travels to Moscow next week at the invitation of Russian leader Vladimir Putin, Manila’s foreign department announced Friday.

The May 22 to 26 Russian trip comes months after Duterte traveled to China in October 2016 on a state visit as part of his pledge to distance the Philippines from traditional ally the United States.

Additionally, during the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in Peru late last year, Duterte met with Putin and Chinese leader Xi Jinping.

Duterte had said that the two nations were seeking to create a new world order and that the Philippines under his leadership would be the first in line to join.

He had said that the three of them had become fast friends with the Russian strongman becoming his instant idol.

Philippine officials see the four-day visit as an indication of “our strong common desire to enhance bilateral relations,” foreign assistant secretary Maria Cleofe Natividad told reporters in a pre-departure briefing.

She said bilateral ties between the two countries are at a “nascent stage” despite almost half a century of diplomatic relations.

“The relations can be best described as cordial, albeit, modest in scope and depth. Thus, 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,” Natividad said.

Duterte is expected to have bilateral meetings with Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev and Putin on the first two days of his trip.

The leaders were to discuss areas of cooperation in the fields of politics, military and defense, she said, adding that several agreements were expected to be signed.

Duterte is scheduled to give a policy speech at the Moscow Institute of International Relations, she said.

“We expect the president to articulate his administration’s commitment to pursue an independent foreign policy that is anchored foremost on national interest considerations,” Natividad said.

The trip comes after Manila announced that it has turned down a European Union (EU) grant of almost $300 million to fund projects in the strife-torn south, protesting what it termed as interference over internal affairs.

It was an apparent reference to the EU’s call for Duterte to stop his war on drugs, which rights experts have said has left thousands of people dead. Filipino officials contend the death toll was overblown and part of alternative facts pushed largely by the critical western media.

Duterte has bristled at these calls, and have often criticized the EU, the United Nations and the United States for questioning the policies of a sovereign nation.

Natividad said Duterte will travel with a business delegation to meet with their Russian counterparts and they expect to bring home lucrative deals.

Bilateral trade between the Philippines and Russia in 2016 totaled only to $226 million, with a trade deficit of some $49 million absorbed by Manila.

Russian investments in the Philippines “at best are still minuscule” with only about 38,000 Russian tourists visiting the country, far below the average in many Southeast Asian countries, Natividad said.

On April 20, the Russian guided-missile cruiser Varyag, accompanied by a fuel tanker ship, arrived in the Philippines on a four-day goodwill visit. It was the second port call by Russian warships in three months.

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