By José Abeto Zaide
The Philippines and Russia, two countries with the same national day. Russia Day is celebrated every year on June 12 since 1992 to commemorate the adoption of the Declaration of State Sovereignty of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic (RSFSR). The passage of this Declaration by the First Congress of People’s Deputies marked the beginning of constitutional reform in the Russian Soviet state.
Russian Ambassador Igor Kovaev, in his resplendent gold lame-embroidered diplomatic uniform, welcomed well-wishers on Russia Day, which he held last Thursday, June 8, at the Rizal Ballroom of Shangri-La Hotel. (In order not to conflict with the June 12th Philippine Independence Day celebrations today. Likewise, our Ambassador Carlos Sorreta hosted the Philippine Embassy’s Independence Day celebrations in Moscow yesterday, Sunday, June 11.)
In welcoming guests, Ambassador Khovaev pointed to the new dynamics between Russia and the Philippines, following the visit of President Rodrigo Roa Duterte to Russia and his dialogue with Russian President Vladimir Putin last month. He expressed President Putin’s sensible understanding to cut short the visit to address the burning issue in Mindanao and his President’s solidarity with the Philippine fight against terrorism. (He said that in 1999, the then Prime Minister Putin faced down the Dagestan terrorists; and he expressed confidence for the same denouement with the Marawi misadventure.)
The Ambassador conveyed his sympathy for the casualties in Marawi and at the Resort World. He said that Russia-Philippine partnership must be underpinned by “beneficial trade and investment projects, cultural and educational cooperation, people-to-people contacts.” He reiterated Russia’s support for the Philippine Chairmanship of ASEAN, especially in the year of the 50th Anniversary of ASEAN.
The Ambassador and DFA Undersecretary Enrique Manalo invited everyone to join as they exchanged toasts to the health of President Duterte and President Putin, to the widening and deepening of Russia-Philippines friendship and partnership, and to the well-being and prosperity of the two nations.
After the toasts, Mrs. Edita Buñag was invited onstage to present the book “40 Years Hence,” a joint venture between two indomitable ladies – Valentina Nebogatova, the spouse of a former Ambassador of Russia to the Philippines and herself the founder of the Philippines-Russia Friendship Society, and Mrs. Buñag, the First Vice President of the Philippines-Russia Friendship Society. The book is a recollection of over four decades of working on opposite slopes of the summit by Filipino and Russian Ambassadors and friends. To formally launch the book, a copy each was presented to Ambassador Khovaev, to DFA Undersecretary Manalo, and to Ambassador Christian Anthony Vihruri of Papua New Guinea, the Acting Dean of the Diplomatic Corps. (Parenthetically, the book was a surprise participant at a recent summit, where President Rodrigo Duterte presented a copy to President Putin.)
ASIDE. Low life expectancy, declining birth rates, a spike in emigration to other countries, a frayed healthcare system, excessive vodka and other factors have contributed to a sharp drop in Russia’s population since the 1991 Soviet collapse. The world’s largest country now has just 141.4 million citizens, making it one of the most sparsely settled nations in the world. Experts expect the decline to accelerate, estimating that Russia’s population could fall below 100 million by 2050.
In his 2006 state of the nation address last year, President Putin said the demographic crisis was the country’s most acute problem and announced a broad effort to boost the birth rate. He green-lighted cash subsidy for couples with more than one child and $10,000 vouchers to pay for education or home repair for families who welcome second or third children.
Gov. Sergey Ivanovich Morozov of Ulyanovsk, the birthplace of Lenin 800 kilometers east of Moscow, had an even better idea. He added the element of fun to the national campaign by declaring September 12th the Day of Conception and giving couples time off from work to procreate and produce the next generation to be born on June 12. The 2007 grand prize (a UAZ-Patriot, a sport utility vehicle made in Ulyanovsk) went to Irina and Andrei Kartuzov, who begat their baby born closest to the target date and the specified hour on June 12. Other contestants won video cameras, TVs, refrigerators and washing machines. The program continues with unprecedented success.
The hike in fertility rate in Ulyanovsk region proved statistically significant: 2009: 1.40, 2010: 1.41, 2011: 1.45, 2012: 1.57, 2013: 1.61, 2014: 1.67. 2015: 1.71, 2016: 1.71. This must have shown the way to the Russian Federation.. At the end of Gasparjin Morozov’s term as Governor, President Putin appointed him Acting Governor… before his term was officially extended until 2021.
TECHNOLOGY TRANSFER. If all these things still fail, perhaps the Philippines can better the instruction. The Philippine birth rate stands at 2.98 births per woman (2014 data). We are still struggling to bring it lower. But we can turn challenge into opportunity by transferring the technology for exponential birth rate to Russia, where they seem to have greater need and can have immediate use for it. In some matters, we still remain world class.
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