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New chapter in Philippines-Russia ties seen

MANILA, Philippines - From a relatively nascent stage despite 41 years of diplomatic ties, the Philippines seeks to fast-track its relations with Russia during the landmark visit of President Duterte to Moscow next week.

“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,” Foreign Affairs Assistant Secretary Maria Cleofe Natividad said during the pre-departure briefing at Malacañang for the President’s trip from Monday to Friday.

Natividad said Duterte would have separate meetings with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev during his visit, when several agreements are expected to be signed and build “a stronger partnership” and usher in a “new chapter in Philippine-Russia relations ” – the theme of the official visit.

Putin and Duterte first met last November on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Lima, Peru.

Meanwhile, Medvedev had also met with Duterte for the first time in September 2016 during the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit in Laos.

“(The President) will be discussing important issues and areas of cooperation and economic partnership with Prime Minister Medvedev and with President Putin on the cooperation in political, military and defense,” Natividad said.

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The agreements to be signed are related to defense, military and technical cooperation as well as a memorandum of understanding on cooperation in the field of security between the respective national security councils.

A treaty on mutual legal assistance in criminal matters and on extradition will also be signed.

The President is likewise set to meet with the Filipino community and deliver a policy speech at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO), when he is expected to articulate his administration’s commitment to pursue an independent foreign policy and share his ideas on how to achieve peace and security, especially in the Asia-Pacific region.

“We expect him to be warmly welcomed by a good-sized Filipino community crowd. We have around 5,000 Filipinos in Russia and we heard that they are very strong supporters of the President,” Natividad said. 

The President will also visit St. Petersburg aside from his engagements in Moscow, Natividad said.

Natividad said the President’s trip to Russia has long been planned but that it has always been postponed due to weather considerations in Moscow.

Defense offices

The two countries will also open their respective defense offices and strengthen partnership to deal with traditional and non-traditional security matters such as terrorism and drug trafficking.

“The agreement on military technical cooperation will pave the way for the Philippines to explore a possibility of… military procurement from Russia,” Natividad said.

“And there is really nothing that would stop Russia from participating in the defense modernization program of the Philippines,” she said.

Natividad noted the agreement is in line with the statements of Duterte and Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana that they will seek partnerships with countries that can provide the best defense deals to the country.

“And also the ones that would be most compatible with the defense and needs of the Philippines, especially in the aspect of interoperability,” she said.

“We welcome Russia’s greater participation and involvement in the Asia-Pacific region. After all, they are already very much engaged in the region through their participation in ASEAN, in APEC and in other dialogue fora,” she said.

Boost to trade ties

The President will also serve as salesman during his visit to attract Russian investors and tourists and improve economic ties between the two countries.

Natividad said there are many untapped opportunities for mutually beneficial economic relations between the two sides that can be explored.

Russian investments in the Philippines are very modest and with this visit of the President, Natividad said “we hope we can start to correct that.”

According to Natividad, bilateral trade between Manila and Moscow in 2016 totaled only $226 million, with the Philippines exporting only $49 million worth of goods to Russia.

She said Russian investments in the Philippines are also minuscule.

Russian tourist arrivals to the Philippines, on the other hand, are merely 28,000 as of last year – way below that of many ASEAN countries.

“It is for this reason that the President is bringing with him an impressive business delegation who will participate in the Philippine-Russia Business Forum in Moscow,” Natividad said. 

She stressed the forum would be an opportune time to share with the Russian companies the benefits of doing business in the Philippines as well as the positive investment climate in areas such as infrastructure, energy, transportation and tourism.

The Department of Trade and Industry and other government agencies, together with the private and business sectors, are working together to achieve concrete results of closer economic cooperation.

Natividad said the President’s visit is seen to be the start of a strong and enduring partnership between the Philippines and Russia that is “multi-dimensional, mutually beneficial” and “in keeping with the principles of sovereignty, non-interference and equality.”

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