By Manny Villar
In last week’s column, I discussed the emerging alliance between the Philippines and Russia against the backdrop of President Duterte’s redirection of the country’s foreign policy to reflect the Constitutional mandate of an “independent foreign policy.” Beyond a military alliance, how can we benefit from this new friendship?
Russian expert Samuel Ramani correctly pointed out that this pivot to Russia is not something new. He noted that “in 1976, Philippine President Ferdinand E. Marcos established diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union” because of his reading of Southeast Asia regional politics after the “reunification of Vietnam under communist rule.”
Philippines-Russia relations should be viewed beyond its military aspect. Its military component is of course a significant component as our country begins the process of modernizing our armed forces to confront the very dynamic threat of terrorism and other challenges to Philippine sovereignty.
But, as Ramani correctly pointed out, Russia is also aware of the new position of the Philippines as the fastest growing economy in Asia. For the past half decade or so, we have been the darling of the world economy as our economy registered robust growth after robust growth.
For this reason “Russian investors have highlighted the Philippines’ agriculture sector as a particularly lucrative area of cooperation” further motivating Russia to “increase its imports of Philippine agricultural products from $46 million to $2.5 billion per year.”
This is good news for the burgeoning Philippine economy. We expect windfalls to our banana and mango growers as well as other agricultural products. Imagine too when Russian tourists, awash with cash, start pouring to our country’s top tourist destinations.
According to the 2015 data from the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), Russia was the Philippines’ 31st trading partner (out of 223), 44th export market (out of 211), and 27th import supplier (out of 203). The top Philippine export product to Russia is carrageenan seaweeds and other algae; while the top import of the Philippine from Russia is petroleum oils and oils obtained from bituminous minerals.
So who’s afraid of Russia? If we believe the surveys conducted by Pulse Asia, the Filipino people seem to be suspicious of both China and Russia. Sixty-three percent (63%) of our people do not trust China while 56% distrust Russia.
These numbers are to be expected of course given the misconceptions we have developed over the years.
The misconception about Russia is due partly to our very close ties to the US. Add to this the hours we spent watching western films (James Bond, Rambo, etc.) depicting the West as the good and Russia the convenient villain, the evil state.
But not President Duterte who rightfully said, “I cannot be afraid for the Russians are with me.”
We all want change. But sometimes we get unsettled when change does come. For a long time now, I have heard analysts complain about the “unequal” alliance between the US and the Philippines and how the Philippines is always at the margins of world affairs.
Now we have a President who has redirected our foreign policy in order to correct our “over-dependence on traditional partners” and who has “underscored the independence of the Philippines’ foreign policy” and “broaden the horizons of friendship and cooperation with other nations.”
And the fact that he has done this in such a short period of time is testament to his leadership skills.
Ours is a changing world. Even our traditional partner, the United States, is undergoing significant transformation in its politics, economy, and global position.
This requires us to change the way we view the world and this means we need to revisit our strategies for engaging that changing world order.
When I was in Russia with the Philippine delegation, I was mighty proud of how our hosts expressed their respect for our nation. I can really feel that they view us as equals. The Russian officials have also publicly remarked that they seek genuine friendship and do not wish to interfere with the affairs of countries they deal with.
President Duterte’s foreign policy redesign has resulted in the Philippines slowly but surely exerting its independent stature in the global stage. We are by no means a superpower. But we have developed diplomatic muscles we can flex from time to time.
(For / feedback email to: mbv.secretariat @gmail or visit www.mannyvillar.com.ph.)
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