Duterte cuts Moscow trip short amid Marawi clash
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte headed back to Manila on Wednesday, May 24, cutting his four-day official visit to Moscow short after declaring martial law in Mindanao in the wake of a confrontation between government troops and local militants in Marawi City.
In a press conference on Tuesday night, May 23 in Moscow, Philippine Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano said Russian officials understood the situation and Duterte’s need to oversee the government operations against the Islamic State (IS)-linked Maute group.
“I have spoken to my counterpart here in Moscow and have explained the situation and they understand that the security of the Filipino people, especially in Marawi and the whole of Mindanao is a priority,” Cayetano said.
Despite Duterte’s unexpected absence, Cayetano confirmed that bilateral agreements scheduled to be signed will still push through.
Cayetano said he will stay behind in Moscow to witness the signing of deals, most of which are related to defense, security, legal assistance, trade and investment, and peaceful use of nuclear energy and culture.
Duterte was originally scheduled to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday, May 25. Before leaving for the Philippines, he had a short rendezvous with his Russian counterpart at the Kremlin.
“Duterte offered friendship and assured the Russian President that the Philippines has gone beyond the ambit of western influence. that the Philippines has gone beyond the ambit of western influence. He asked for a soft loan as well, saying the United States had canceled the Philippines’ arms purchase from it. Putin, in turn, condoled with Duterte for the Marawi attack and hoped that it would be resolved with minimum losses,” the Philippine Daily Inquirer reported.
On Tuesday evening, the Philippine president placed the region of Mindanao under martial law, following the confrontation between the government forces and local terrorists.
The clash reportedly erupted around 2 p.m. on the same day when the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and Philippine National Police (PNP) conducted a joint operation in barangay Basak Malutlut to capture Isnilon Hapilon, who is believed to be the head of IS in Southeast Asia.
According to Malacañang, the martial law period will last for 60 days.
“[Deputy Executive Sec. Menardo] Guevarra has clarified that this is possible on the grounds of existence of rebellion because of what is happening in Mindanao based on Article 7, Section 18 of the Constitution. This is good for 60 days,” Spokesperson Ernesto Abella said.
The Maute group reportedly occupied several establishments in Marawi City, including a hospital and a city jail. Several other facilities, such as St. Mary’s Church, the Ninoy Aquino School, and the Dansalan College, were also reportedly burned.
Abella, however, affirmed that the government is “in full control of the situation.”
“New chapter” of PH-Russia ties
Pointing out that “there are opportunities that cannot be ignored,” Duterte said that Russia is a country that the Philippines “must” work with.
“There is much room to develop mutually beneficial cooperation. There are many opportunities that need to be explored. Now we can work together to open those doors even wider,” he said.
In his pre-departure speech in Davao City on Monday, May 22, Duterte stressed that Russia “must cease to be at the margins of Philippine diplomacy.”
“Over-dependence on traditional partners has limited our room to maneuver in a very dynamic international arena. This is a strategic oversight that has led to many missed opportunities for our country. I am determined to correct this,” he said.
Duterte also added that he is bringing with him a “high-level” Philippine delegation that befits the level of importance his administration “places on the writing of a new chapter of Philippines–Russia relationship.”
As part of asserting the Philippines’ independent foreign policy, the president last year announced the Philippines’ “separation” with the United States, its decades-long ally, in favor of a closer shift toward Russia and China.
According to Duterte, the “landmark trip” not only underscores the independence of the Philippines’ foreign policy but also underscores the Philippines’ “firm resolve” to “broaden the horizons of friendship and cooperation with other nations.”
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