Duterte Russia trip closely watched

SPYBITS - The Philippine Star

People will be carefully watching the developments of the official visit of President Duterte to Russia especially with the administration’s pronounced foreign policy shift. Aside from trade and investments, Russian President Vladimir Putin and President Duterte are expected to discuss stronger security and political ties as well as cultural and technology exchanges.

The last time a Philippine president visited Russia was in June 2009 when former president Gloria Arroyo attended the International Economic Forum in St. Petersburg upon the invitation of Dmitry Medvedev, who was the Russian Federation president at the time. Fidel Ramos also made an official visit to Russia in September 1997, and many Filipinos are probably not aware that it was actually Ferdinand Marcos who paid the first official visit to Russia in 1976, which led to the establishment of formal diplomatic relations between the two countries.

According to some analysts, this partnership with the Philippines will provide Moscow with more leverage to push for the establishment of a free trade agreement between countries in the Eurasian Economic Union (namely Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Armenia and Kyrgyzstan) and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations which the Philippines currently chairs. ASEAN is a very promising market, and the EEU has been aggressively pursuing free trade agreements with member nations such as Vietnam, which signed an FTA in October last year.

EEU is also eyeing Singapore, while Cambodia and Thailand are in serious talks to engage with the Eurasian economic bloc. As the fastest growing economy in Southeast Asia, the Philippines is certainly attractive to Russian investors.

Aside from their perceived similarities, the meeting between President Putin and President Duterte is made more interesting since it comes at the height of the controversy between Russia and the United States – the traditional ally of the Philippines. US President Donald Trump himself is facing a political firestorm for allegedly asking former Federal Bureau of Investigation director James Comey – who was fired by Trump last week – to let go of the investigation regarding the dealings of former National Security adviser Michael Flynn with Russians who allegedly conducted hacking operations that affected the outcome of the last US presidential elections. It can be recalled that in the last days of his term, former US president Barack Obama padlocked two Russian compounds and expelled 35 diplomats who were accused of being spies.

It’s amazing, but as many as 300 businessmen from the Philippines are joining the delegation of President Duterte for his trip to Russia (which has been described as a junket), among them Michael Tan, Felix Ang, Noel Oñate, Manny Villar and daughter Camille, Joey Leviste, Roberto de Venecia, Olivia Limpe-Aw, Jorge Consunji, Alfred Yao, George Barcelon and Joey Concepcion. There are also familiar names like Mike Toledo of Philex, Agnes Huibonhoa, Jun Palafox and former MMDA chairman Francis Tolentino. Some names though have raised questions, among them actors Robin and Rommel Padilla, Phillip Salvador and Lord Byron Cristobal, founder/manager of the management company that handles Mocha Girls.

The delegation is an interesting mix of big and small businessmen with some coming from Davao, Butuan, Laguna and other parts. We won’t be surprised if some of them are embedded “operatives” whose job would be to make “observations” during the trip to Russia.

Spy world rejuvenated

It would seem that the Cold War did not put spying out of business. On the contrary, the world of espionage seems to be very much in existence, with technology making surveillance operations much more sophisticated today. In the past, operatives would dig up secret tunnels leading to embassies or ambassadorial residences to eavesdrop on what was going on. According to spy lore, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the National Security Agency built a secret tunnel from one of the houses along Wisconsin Avenue all the way to the Russian Embassy in Washington, DC.

Today, however, cyber spies only need to hack into a computer system to steal classified military, political and economic information or worse – pinpoint the identity and location of embedded operatives. According to a report by the New York Times, the Chinese government “crippled” the covert operations of the Central Intelligence Agency in China by either killing or imprisoning as many as 20 double agents or sources from deep inside the Chinese bureaucracy between 2010 and 2012.

Apparently, the CIA and the FBI started noticing the disappearance of sources sometime in early 2011 – prompting a joint investigation to pinpoint the breach and assess the operations in Beijing to see if any US Embassy employee may have been compromised. Reports say a former CIA operative may have been the mole, but this was dismissed for lack of evidence.

One other theory is that computer hackers employed by the Chinese government “systematically dismantled” the CIA’s spying operations by getting into the Agency’s communications system. Many say this is more believable considering the slew of reports about hacking operations that have resulted in the leaking of classified information from sensitive agencies.

Aside from the US elections, cyber spies also reportedly interfered in the recent French elections – and are now targeting the German elections this September.

BusinessWorld now No. 1 business paper

At the recent BusinessWorld Economic Forum at the Shangri-La at The Fort, businessman Manny Pangilinan proudly proclaimed his ownership of the business paper. He actually invested in BW several years before the MVP Group acquired majority ownership of The Philippine STAR.

Manny is also proud that after  he asked Miguel Belmonte to take over the management, BusinessWorld is now back in the black, turning profitable just last year – so our congratulations to Miguel for a job well done!

One funny thing that MVP said during his speech though was that BW’s turnaround has made him optimistic that “there is hope for TV5.” Does that mean he will soon be asking Miguel to run the Kapatid network?

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