And now to Russia
It’s too early in the day to determine the true impact and significance of President Duterte’s state visit to Russia, which Malacañang had billed as a “landmark” trip that inaugurates a new chapter in the relations between the two countries.
The visit was cut short when Mr. Duterte decided to rush home to deal with the violence in Marawi City; the scheduled conferment of an honorary doctorate by the Moscow State Institute of International Relations, a school run by Russia’s foreign ministry, thus failed to materialize. Mr. Duterte having flown out to return to the Philippines, it was left to his officials to see to the agreements scheduled to be signed between the two countries—on defense, military and technical cooperation, mutual legal assistance in criminal matters, and extradition and cooperation between the Philippine and Russian national security councils, etc.
But as to the rapport between the two leaders there can be no doubt. Russian President Vladimir Putin rearranged his schedule, reportedly flying in from another region in his country to meet with the Philippine President two days ahead, on Tuesday instead of Thursday, upon learning that the latter was rushing home to deal with an emergency. The last-minute meeting allowed Putin to express his “condolences on the loss of Filipino lives in a terrorist attack.” It was the scheduled bilateral meeting with Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev on Wednesday that got canceled, somehow underscoring who calls the shots and has the last word in the Kremlin.
Mr. Duterte was up-front about what he wanted from the Russian leader. “If you can grant me a soft loan right now … [because] the arms deal with America got canceled,” he reportedly told Putin during the meeting. “I’m having problems with the IS (Islamic State). I come here to seek help.” Per reports, the overt request didn’t merit an outright answer from Putin, who made no mention of it in his remarks. There is no word yet from Malacañang or the Department of Foreign Affairs whether Moscow has approved the loan by this time; the money is purportedly to buy Russian firearms in lieu of an order of some 27,000 American rifles for the Philippine National Police that got scrapped last year due to the US government’s concerns over the Duterte administration’s war on drugs.
The Philippines’ pivot from the United States and toward new, nontraditional partners may recall, for students of history, a similar move by another Philippine president. In 1975, then dictator Ferdinand Marcos, his wife Imelda and daughters Imee and Irene went on a five-day state visit to Beijing and met the aging Chinese leader Mao Zedong. A year later, Marcos established diplomatic ties with the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, then under Premier Leonid Brezhnev. The two communist countries were avowed enemies of the United States, this country’s longstanding ally which then maintained military bases on Philippine soil. But while Marcos wanted an independent-foreign-policy sheen to his rule, it was, in fact, a way to inveigle greater support from Washington.
This time, Mr. Duterte has gone all-out in one direction, decisively declaring in speeches that, under his leadership, the Philippines is done cooperating with America. He has also displayed open hostility toward the European Union, unconcerned that the US and EU are among the Philippines’ biggest trading partners. He has instead turned to China, which is gobbling Philippine territory in the West Philippine Sea while dangling vast loans to the country, and now to Russia. Are the Philippines’ eggs, in effect, being put at this time in the basket of these two superpowers, which are doubtless operating according to their own strategic interests? It’s crucial to ask: What is the long game in this regard?
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