Russia and the Philippines
by Olivia Kroth
After President Duterte’s visit to Moscow, Russia and the Philippines signed a total of eight cooperation agreements. According to Rodrigo Duterte, the Philippine Government needs support and weapons from Russia to fight terrorism back home. “I came to Moscow to confirm our friendship,” the Philippine President said as he met Russian President Vladimir Putin. He called the Russian Federation a reliable partner and Vladimir Putin his favourite hero. Rodrigo Duterte signaled his interest in buying small arms, helicopters and jets from Moscow (RUSSIA TODAY, 24.05.2017). The Philippines and Russia signed a package of agreements for cooperation in agriculture and fisheries; livestock breeding; processing, transportation and storage of produce. A three-year joint action programme on tourism, starting this year, was secured by the Philippine Tourism Secretary Wanda Teo. A memorandum of agreement was signed with the Russian State Atomic Energy Corporation for cooperation on nuclear energy. The overall package of Russian-Philippine agreements also includes training exchanges, as well as exchanges in information and culture (ABS / CBS NEWS, 25.05.2017).
This friendship seems striking but is not new. The Philippines and Russia have been partners in friendly cooperation since Soviet times. The Soviet Union held contact with the Philippines through its organizations Comintern and Profintern. The Communist International, abbreviated as Comintern (1919–1943), was an international Communist organization advocating world Communism. The Red International of Labor Unions (Красный интернационал профсоюзов), known as Profintern, was an international body, established by Comintern in 1921, with the aim of coordinating Communist activities within trade unions. In the second half of the 20th century, Philippines President Ferdinand Marcos sought to further deepen ties with the Soviet Union. He admired the Russians, as President Rodrigo Duterte does today. Formal ties were established between both countries, in 1976.
In the 15th century, the Philippines were invaded by Spain:
Just like China, Korea, Laos and Vietnam, among other Asian countries, the Philippines were also drawn to the Communist experience due to their common colonial past. The Philippines, consisting of more than 7.600 islands in the Pacific Ocean, were colonized by Spain after the arrival of Ferdinand Magellan, in 1521. The archipelago was named “Las Islas Filipinas” after King Philipp II of Spain. For 300 years, the islands were a Spanish colony, with Spanish as their dominant language and Roman Catholicism as their dominant religion. At the end of the 19th century, the Philippines freed themselves from the Spanish colonial yoke in the Philippine Revolution. However, their freedom did not last long. At the beginning of the 20th century, the archipelago became occupied by US forces. After World War II, the Philippines were finally recognized as an independent nation. Nearly five hundred years of foreign colonial dominance and exploitation have left their mark on the Philippines. No wonder, President Rodrigo Duterte is eager to buy arms from Russia.
Rodrigo Duterte was born in Mindanao, on the 28th of March 1945. A lawyer by profession, he is the 16th President of the Philippines. In May 2016, he won the presidential election. His domestic policy is focused on fighting against the illegal drug trade and ISIS terrorism. His foreign policy is geared towards independence from the USA and EU. President Duterte wants closer ties with China and Russia. He is a highly respected president. A Pulse Asia survey, conducted in July 2016, showed that Rodrigo Duterte had a trust rating of 91% among his population. Pulse Asia Research is a public opinion polling body in the Philippines, founded in 1999.
Spanish heritage in Manila:
Rodrigo Duterte is fascinated by Russian ships. In April 2017, he visited the Russian ship Varyag, which docked in Manila for a four-day port call. “At Pier 15, the President was accorded arrival honours by the Russian Navy contingent. He first went to the upper deck where the short-range anti-missile rocket system is located. He then proceeded to the mid-ship where the long-range anti-aircraft missile rocket system is placed. The President also went to the bow to inspect the ship’s main weapon or long distance anti-ship missile. Duterte went to the ship museum and the admiral’s room for the guest book signing” (PHILSTAR, 22.04.2017).
The Russian cruiser Varyag is a ship of the Slava class of guided missile cruisers, built for the Soviet Navy, now serving the Russian Navy. The vessel was launched in July 1983, and commissioned in October 1989. The warship joined the Pacific Fleet in 1990. After an overhaul, it re-entered service in the Pacific Fleet, in 2008. Russia’s Pacific Fleet (Тихоокеанский флот) is stationed in the Pacific Ocean, with headquarters in Vladivostok.
Russian cruiser Varyag:
Regarding commerce and trade, “the relationship between the Philippines and Russia has the potential to grow. Russia follows the path of cooperation and active participation in the vibrant markets of East Asia. The Russians are interested in commerce and influence. So they might try to strengthen ties with the Philippines, which are cordial albeit modest in scope and depth” (PHILSTAR, 21.04.2017). The same tenor was heard in President Vladimir Putin’s words, who pointed out that mutual “trade has been modest, but it started growing early this year and has already increased by 25 percent. There are many promising areas of bilateral cooperation, such as power machine building, transport infrastructure, energy and possibly military technical cooperation” (PRESIDENT OF RUSSIA, Kremlin.ru, 23.05.2017).
Both leaders were satisfied with the outcome of their talk in Moscow, as the joint press statement indicated, reprinted in Russian and English on the Russian President’s website: “Russian-Philippine negotiations were held in an atmosphere of friendship and understanding. The parties expressed satisfaction with the recently increased cooperation in various fields. They reviewed thoroughly the prospects of further enhancement of the Russian-Philippine cooperation in priority areas.”
Old Filipino Traditions:
Further enhancement could be achieved in the near future in a myriad of different areas: “It is important to expand trade, economic and socio-cultural cooperation, giving priority to the promotion of joint projects and initiatives in the sectors of science and technology, agriculture, energy, transport, education, culture and sports. The parties attach great importance to the launch of the Joint Russian-Philippine Commission on Trade and Economic Cooperation which held its first meeting in Manila on April 28, 2017.”
Southeast Asia is clearly a region of great geopolitical interest for the Russian Federation, as indicated in further points of the joint press conference: “The parties reiterated their readiness to further enhance cooperation in the Asia-Pacific region and on the international arena on the whole, aimed at the creation of favourable conditions for economic growth of both states, and contributing to maintaining peace and stability in Southeast Asia and the Asia-Pacific region. The parties highlighted their shared determination to foster cooperation within the framework of the East Asia Summit (EAS), the ASEAN Regional Forum, the ASEAN Defense Ministers’ Meetings Plus, the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation, the Asia-Europe Meeting, the Asia Cooperation Dialogue” (PRESIDENT OF RUSSIA, kremlin.ru, 24.05.2017).
Will the Philippine capital of Manila and the beautiful islands of the archipelago in the Pacific Ocean become one of Russia’s favourite tourist destinations in the near future? Will Russian students study at Philippine universities and Philippine students visit Russian universities? Cultural and touristic exchanges between the Russian Federation and the Philippines will be a novelty for both sides, certainly worth while trying, besides intensifying economic and military cooperation according to plans until 2025.
Olivia Kroth: The journalist and author of four books lives in Moscow.