By José Abeto Zaide
Today is Day 2 of President Rodrigo R. Duterte’s historic visit to Russia. The Philippines is geographically the closest among ASEAN countries to the southernmost tip of Russia. President Rodrigo R. Duterte has professed refiguring Philippine bilateral relations with China and Russia; and there is a natural chemistry between PDu30 and Russian President Vladimir Putin, two leaders known to be tough as nails.
In his previous incarnation as chairman of the Committee on Foreign Relations of the Philippine Senate, the then Senator Alan Peter Cayetano had oversight of the conduct of our foreign relations. Like the climate change that is suddenly upon us, he is now our secretary of foreign affairs and finds his situation reversed: He comes under the scrutiny of his colleagues at the Senate, who will judge if the conduct of foreign relations may be as well as when he had judged others.
It is Secretary Cayetano’s good fortune to be the man at the right elbow of the President during this historic visit. His baptism of fire is to sherpa the President at this time when Philippine diplomacy blazes new trails, makes new friends, and measures up to greater challenges.
The Philippines and Russia commemorated 40 years of bilateral relations in 2016. We are off to an auspicious start on the 41st year with PDu30 taking his first step to Russia. As our chief diplomat, Cayetano has the book “40 Years Hence,” for President Rodrigo R. Duterte to present to Russian President Vladmir Putin.
The book is a snapshot of four decades of bilateral relations between PH and Russia from both perspectives – from Russian diplomats who have served in Manila and from those of us who have served in Moscow. This handsome tome is joint venture between two ladies of the Friendship Society of the Philippines and Russia, Inc. (FSPRI), Mrs. Edita “Baby” Buñag and Valentina Negobatova (wife of former Russian Ambassador to the Philippines). It has a reversible cover; both the Philippine and the Russian side are front cover, and the two sides meet at the center with reproduction of the Joint Communique (in English and in Russian) establishing the opening of bilateral relations and exchanges of diplomatic missions. To echo the words of Russia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergey Lavrov, our ties are based on principles of equality, mutual respect, and consideration of each other’s interest.
When Sputnik was first to orbit the earth, Russia left the rest of the world in its dust; but back on earth, a middling country like the Philippines could still teach the leviathan former USSR lessons on the marketplace.
BTW, two small historical footnotes which almost did not happen: The Russian cruiser, the Aurora, is now a museum docked at Saint Petersburg. The crew joined the Bolsheviks, and at 9.45 p.m. on 25 October 1917 the Aurora fired her forecastle gun at the Winter Palace to signal the October Revolution. (But before that, the Aurora was interned by the United States authorities from 6 June 1905 until the end of the Russo-Japanese War in 1906. Trivia: Had the Aurora not been released from Manila, would the history have been vastly different?)
Historical footnote 2: From the sublime to a smile: This book. “40 Years Hence,” almost did not make it in time for the President’s trip to Moscow. We had to stop the press on the printing this book… because we had to oblige the request to replace the photo of a petite DFA senior official with another photo where she was not wearing her eyeglasses. We offered to photo-shop out the eyeglasses, to no avail. But who can argue with a lady’s vanity?
Besides the officialese and personal recollections by past and present envoys, culture is a language that needs no translation. The former First Lady Imelda Marcos had disarmed the apparatchiks and the politburo and brought with her artists like Lisa Macuja (ballet), Raul Sunico (piano), Redentor Romero (conductor), and other Filipino world-class artists. The Bolshoi Ballet and the Bayanihan are one among the many people-to-people exchanges, a cross-pollination, that have widened, deepened, and enriched our bilateral relations.
We have every reason to look more toward each other: For one, when the weather is frostiest in Moscow, it is most welcoming in Manila.
BTW, Russia has unquenchable thirst for potable quality. I hope that the delegation brought along enough Tanduay and Ginebra to introduce to Russian tipplers.
President Duterte will have bragging rights when he presents a copy of the book “40 Years Hence” to President Vladimir Putin. It is an account and a roadmap to continue from a higher plateau on the summit of Philippine-Russia relations.
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