Philippines, Russia to ink defense, other deals during Duterte's trip to Moscow next week
The Philippines and Russia are set to sign several agreements, including defense and military cooperation, when President Rodrigo Duterte embarks on an official visit to Moscow, a non-traditional partner of the Philippines, on May 22 to 26.
Assistant Foreign Affairs Secretary for European Affairs Maria Cleofe Natividad said several agreements are expected to be signed during Duterte's trip upon the invitation of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
"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 in a press briefing in Malacanang on Friday.
The theme for the visit is “Building a Stronger Partnership, a New Chapter in Philippine-Russia Relations,” she said, noting that despite almost 41 years of diplomatic ties of the two countries, their bilateral engagement was still "at nascent stage in practically all areas of cooperation."
Duterte and Putin, after their bilateral meeting on May 25, will witness signing of agreements related to defense, security, legal assistance, trade and investment, peaceful use of nuclear energy and culture.
"The two Presidents will witness agreements that are related to defense cooperation, military and technical cooperation; the treaty on mutual legal assistance in criminal matters; treaty on extradition; an MOU on cooperation in the field of security between respective national security councils," Natividad said.
She said the military technical cooperation between Manila and Moscow will pave the way for the Philippines to possibly procure military equipment from Russia.
She said Russia could participate in the modernization program of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.
"(Defense) Secretary (Delfin) Lorenzana has 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 and needs of the Philippines especially in the aspect of interoperability," Natividad said.
She said Manila is looking forward to opening an Office of Defense Attache in Moscow and the Russian government will also open its own defense office in Manila.
She said the opening of defense attache of both countries will strengthen their partnership in approaching both traditional and non-traditional security matters, such as anti-terrorism efforts, combating illegal drugs and trafficking.
Asked if there is a plan for Russian forces to be stationed in the Philippines similar to the American forces, Natividad said there was no discussion at the moment regarding joint exercises or a status of visiting forces.
Duterte will also have a meeting with Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev on May 24. He will deliver a policy speech at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations or the MGIMO, an elite institution for diplomatic training and international relations.
"In that event (MGIMO), 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.
She said Duterte will be joined by a number of Filipino businessmen.
"Bilateral trade is also an area which we could vastly improve on," she said, noting that in 2016, trade was only at $226 million, with the Philippines exporting only $49 million worth of goods to Russia.
He said Duterte will participate in the Philippine-Russia Business Forum.
"The forum would be an opportune time to share with the Russian companies the benefits of doing business in the Philippines and the very positive investment climate, especially in such areas such as infrastructure, energy, transportation, tourism and others," she said.
Duterte will meet with the Filipino community in Russia where an estimated 5,000 Filipinos are working or living there.
Former President Benigno Aquino III was the last Philippine leader who went to Russia. But he went there in September 2012 to attend the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Vladivostok. Celerina Monte/DMS