by Ben Rosario
Moscow, Russia – President Duterte reiterated the Philippines’ offer of friendship and optimism for a robust partnership in trade and commerce with Russia at a meeting with President Vladimir Putin who hurriedly took a long journey to the capital city to meet his Filipino counterpart on Tuesday night.
Meeting Putin two days ahead of the original schedule today on Wednesday, May 25,, Duterte who had to cut short his visit to Russia as he proclaimed martial law in Mindanao, said, the country needs to acquire precision weapons and military supplies as he aims for a decisive end to the terrorist threat in his country.
“I come to seek your friendship and to trade, establish trade and commerce with your country,” Duterte said. “I am sorry if I am in a hurry but if you can grant me a soft loan, we’ll raise the money and pay it right away because our order for arms from America was cancelled.”
New Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano will lead the Philippine delegation and represent Duterte in the signing of bilateral agreements, most of which were scheduled yesterday.
Putin assured Duterte that he understands the Filipino leader’s predicament in abbreviating his four-day official visit in order to personally attend to threats to peace and security in the Philippines. “My colleagues and myself definitely understand quite well that you do have to return to your motherland,” Putin told Duterte.
The Russian leader had a busy schedule in Krasnodar, located 1,193 kilometers away from Moscow. “As you probably know, I spent this day away from Moscow in one of our regions and that I have seized the chance to see you in person,” Putin said.
The two leaders met at the Kremlin Grand Palace minutes before Duterte boarded his flight back to the Philippines to personally oversee the execution of his martial law declaration over Mindanao where ISIS-influenced Maute rebels launched armed attacks in Marawi City, Lanao del Sur.
During the less than ten-minute talk, Putin expressed his pleasure in Duterte’s acceptance of his invitation to visit Moscow. Putin extended the invitation when the two met in Lima, Peru for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation conference and more recently in Beijing, China, for the Belt and Road Initiative Forum.
Putin offered his country’s sympathies over the disruption of peace and order in the Philippines. “At the outset of our conversation, I would express our condolences over the loss of lives of your people because of a horrible terrorist attack,” he said.
“And let me express hope that the conflict that you have just mentioned will be resolved as soon as possible and with minimal losses and casualties,” he added.
Putin assured Duterte that the bilateral agreements that have been discussed and prepared by their countries will be signed. “You and I know that our teams have worked hard and prepared a full package of bilateral documents, instruments. And your ministers, as far as I know, are staying and tomorrow the package aiming at the development of bilateral ties will be signed,” he said.
Cayetano said he will take over the work assigned to Duterte in Russia, including the signing of trade, military, and law enforcement cooperation agreements. He had scheduled meetings yesterday with his Russian counterpart, Minister Sergey Lavrov.
Duterte also missed his scheduled meetings with Russian Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev, as well as with representatives of the 5,000 overseas Filipino workers in Russia.
Duterte will also miss the ceremony for the conferment of an honorary doctorate on him by the MGIMO University or the Moscow State Institute of International Relations. At this affair, Duterte was scheduled to deliver a policy speech relating to his independent foreign policy.
Putin said he sees opportunities for Russia and the Philippines to improve their economic cooperation, in his meeting with President Duterte.
Putin noted that despite more than 40 years of diplomatic ties between Russia and the Philippines, their “mutual trade exchanges are not too high.”
“We have very many promising and interesting areas of cooperation, including on energy machine building, transport, and infrastructure,” the Russian leader told President Duterte. “And I think we can cooperate in many different technical spheres.”
President Putin, however, noted that two-way trade jumped by 25 percent at the start of the year.
Data from the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) showed that in January to February, 2017, bilateral trade between the two countries amounted to $59.1 million. Imports from Russia reached $50.4 million while Philippine exports only amounted to $8.7 million.
At their first meeting in Lima, Peru, on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit last year, President Putin committed to President Duterte that Russia would buy some $2.5 billion worth of agriculture products from the Philippines.
Secretary Ramon Lopez of the Department of Trade and Industry said President Duterte has instructed him and Secretary Cayetano to continue with the planned official program that can be implemented on the ministerial level, including the signing of agreements.
“For DTI, we shall proceed with the meetings with Russian business groups and the business forums in Moscow and St. Petersburg that will be attended by delegates from the Russian business community and the Filipino business delegates,” Lopez said.
Nearly 300 businessmen from the Philippines are here, in line with the official delegation from the Philippines to explore opportunities with their Russian counterparts, among them the MVP Group.
In a text message to the Philippine News Agency, Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI) President George Barcelon said that the two countries’ push for closer ties is good both for trade and people-to-people relations.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said Russia can help the Philippines in fighting against terrorists, particularly preventing the Islamic State to spread in the country.
He said he and his Russian counterpart had discussions in Moscow last month prior to the visit of the Philippines’ official delegation this week. “We talked about this ISIS problem. This is a worldwide problem already, a global problem,” the secretary said.
“We are very concerned that the Islamic State could bring the trouble to Visayas and Metro Manila and then Luzon,” he added. (With a report from PNA)
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