BY LILIAN MELLEJOR
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte vowed to build stronger ties with Russia, noting that there were “missed opportunities in the 40-year bilateral relations with that country due to the Philippines’ overdependence on its traditional partners.”
Leading a high-level delegation of representatives from the government and business sectors, Duterte left the Davao International Airport Monday afternoon, May 22, with the hope of bolstering Philippines-Russia relations during his meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev.
In his departure speech, Duterte said the “overdependence on traditional partners limited little room to maneuver in a very dynamic international arena.” Duterte is visiting Russia upon the invitation of Russian President Vladimir Putin from May 22 to 26.
“This is a strategic oversight that has led to many missed opportunities for our country. I am determined to correct this,” he said, adding that while the relations of both countries opened 40 years ago, it has opened “slightly.”
“There is much room to develop mutually beneficial cooperation. There are many opportunities that needed to be explored. Now we can work together to open those doors even wider.
The President underscored the need to broaden the prospects of friendship and cooperation with other nations.
“Russia is a country that we must work with. There are opportunities for cooperation that cannot be ignored. With [its] geographic footprint in the Asia-Pacific region and its strategic interests in the region, a positive engagement is required to find areas of synergies in interests,” the President stressed.
His visit, Duterte said, is an offshoot of his talk with President Putin during the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meeting last year, where they agreed to boost their bilateral relations.
According to the President, Russia must cease to be at the margins of Philippine diplomacy. “My administration will give [Philippines-Russia] relations the importance commensurate to its full potential. We will push for pragmatic engagement in the politico-security sphere, increased economic cooperation, and enhanced cultural and people-to-people exchanges,” he said.
During his meeting with President Putin and Premier Medvedev, Duterte said they will discuss ways of charting the future direction of “our partnership across many areas.”
“[We will] exchange views [on] regional and international issues to determine how we can best advance our shared interests,” he said.
The President will also be meeting business leaders in Russia with the aim of sustaining the Philippines economic growth and seek responsible economic partners who will become the country’s new allies in development.
It is my hope that this official visit will lay the firm foundation for a robust, comprehensive, and mutually-beneficial Philippines–Russia partnership, he said.
For a long time, the United States is one of the Philippines’ traditional partners.
Earlier, Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Ma. Cleofe Natividad said the visit of the President 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’s visit in Russia will be substantive. Aside from the President’s meeting with President Putin and Medvedev, there will be several bilateral agreements which are expected to be signed. These agreements are related to defense, security, legal assistance, trade and investment, peaceful use of nuclear energy and culture.
Natividad said the President is also going to deliver a policy speech at the prestigious Moscow State Institute of International Relations or the MGIMO, where Duterte will articulate his administration’s commitment to pursue an independent foreign policy that is anchored foremost on national interest considerations.
MGIMO is an elite institution for diplomatic training and international relations.
There is also a need for Philippines and Russia to explore the many untapped opportunities for mutually beneficial economic relations.
According to Natividad, Russian investments in the Philippines are modest. The bilateral trade is also an area that needs improvement.
Natividad cited the bilateral trade in 2016 totaled only to USD 226 million, with the Philippines exporting only PHP49 million worth of goods to Russia.
Natividad revealed that Russian investments in the Philippines are still miniscule and Russian tourist arrivals in the Philippines are at around 38,000 only, still way below that of many ASEAN countries. (PNA)