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Looking Back

A country that is no more

/ 05:05 AM October 10, 2018

USSR, as I remember from my grade school current events class, was the acronym for the Empire of Evil, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. It is a country that is no more, the former union dissolved in 1991 by the nationalism that swept all the former republics into independence.

I pity children taking Hekasi class today, because, compared to my childhood when Russia was simply USSR, students may be asked to enumerate the other Soviet republics, now independent countries, that existed from 1956 to 1991: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belorussia, Estonia, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kirghizia, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldavia, Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenia, Ukraine and Uzbekistan. To complicate matters, a cruel teacher may even require students to know the flags, capital cities, population, language and ethnicity of each.

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Our embassy in Moscow today covers the Russian Federation, with concurrent jurisdiction over Armenia, Belarus and Ukraine.

After a long walk and some picture-taking at Red Square, visitors should battle the long lines to get tickets to the Kremlin, so they can visit the many churches and palaces within its red walls. While inside, I remembered what was once Spanish Manila: intra (within) muros (the walls). Gazing upon the glittering Russian crown jewels in the Diamond Fund and getting visual indigestion from the many icons, jewels and other precious objets d’art in the Armory, it dawned on me that the exhibits were not about craftsmanship or history. Rather, all these were opulent reminders of the excesses of the tsars, who were swept away by the 1917 Revolution.

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The experience was similar to the post-Edsa Malacañang tours, which allowed people to see Imelda Marcos’ infamous shoe
collection. Perhaps the Malaysian party in power should also open an Hermès bag museum — to highlight not the French luxury brand, but the excesses of its former prime minister and wife.

The Marcoses figure in the history of Russian-Philippine relations, because it was during their visit to Moscow in 1976 that diplomatic relations between the two countries were established. Marcos’ pivot to the People’s Republic of China and the USSR was a significant shift in Philippine foreign policy, a recalibration of special relations with the United States strained by negotiations on the US bases in the Philippines. Another motive for the overtures with communist countries was to short-circuit their support for the communist insurgency in the Philippines.

Marcos’ diary entries for the long state visit to the USSR, from May 31 to June 7, 1976, leave much to be desired. Historians and political scientists wish he noted down more of his impressions of the country and its people, and more of the sidelights not recorded in the communiqué issued at the end of the state visit, as well as the motives and hurdles that led to the treaties signed, etc.

A serious issue with the diary entries for the Russia visit is that none of them are supported by a handwritten version. All that remains are transcriptions that make the skeptical historian ask if these are genuine, and if so, why weren’t the manuscripts preserved, or where the originals may be.

Marcos reveals that his request for Russian oil and gas was politely declined, but he was offered help with hydroelectricity. Uranium would only be supplied if the Philippines bought a Russian nuclear power plant; our Bataan plant, completed but never fueled, was from Westinghouse.

Marcos also suggested that Russia buy coconut oil direct from the Philippines and skirt Japanese and Singapore middlemen. Then there was the issue of Russian arms sold to Libya and then sent to communist insurgents in the Philippines. Marcos wrote:
“… We are completely overhauling our foreign policy and completing its evolution from colonial to special relations to complete independence and self-reliance… Our objective is the nationalistic objective of eliminating all vestiges of colonialism or neocolonialism — which indirectly states the fact that as we are liberating ourselves from American neocolonialism, so we do not wish to be under any other power.”

Strong words indeed from a largely self-serving document. On the bright side, it is possible to squeeze truth from the biases and lies in the Marcos diaries.

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Comments are welcome at aocampo@ateneo.edu

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TAGS: Amberth Ocampo, Ferdinand Marcos Sr., Looking Back, Russian-Philippine relations, USSR
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