– by Manila Bulletin
The Philippines and Russia are planning to boost defense and security cooperation to combat terrorism, illegal drugs, and maritime threats in a latest indication of the strengthening of bilateral relations between the two countries.
President Duterte met with Russian Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev in Davao City on Thursday to enhance the country’s friendly relations with Russia ahead of his planned visit to Moscow.
Patrushev and his delegation also held bilateral talks with the National Security Council led by National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. on the planned cooperation deals on security matters.
“The bilateral talks discussed future government-to-government cooperation in the fields of security and intelligence, defense and military, law enforcement, terrorism and transnational crime, anti-illegal drugs work plan, and maritime law enforcement,” Esperon said in a statement.
Esperon said concerned agencies are finalizing the cooperation agreements between the Philippines and Russia. A memorandum of understanding will be signed during the President’s upcoming visit to Moscow, he added.
“President Duterte graced the farewell dinner at Marco Polo Hotel where he emphasized that the Philippines can only offer its sincerest friendship that is based on equality,” Esperon said.
Among the government officials present in the meeting were Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, Interior and Local Government Secretary Ismael Sueño, Justice Undersecretary Antonio Kho Jr., Philippine Ambassador to Russia Carlos Sorreta, Armed Forces Chief of Staff Gen. Eduardo Año, Army chief Glorioso Miranda, Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency head Isidro Lapeña, Philippine Coast Guard commandant Joel Garcia, and Foreign Affairs Assistant Secretary on European Affairs Cleofe Natividad.
The Russian delegation included Russian Ambassador to the Philippines Igor Khovaev, First Deputy Minister of Justice Sergey Gerasimov, Deputy Minister of Interior Igor Zubov, Deputy Director of the Federal Protection Service Viktor Tulupov, Russian Army chief Oleg Salyukov, Russian Security Council Assistant Secretary Alexander Venediktov, and Russian Coast Guard head Alexey Volskiy.
President Duterte earlier said he was excited to visit Russia this spring to shop for defense assets, particularly precision-guided weapons, to help combat the threat of Islamic extremists. He is expected to visit Moscow in May.
When he toured one of its warships docked in Manila last month, the President expressed hope that Russia would become the country’s ally and protector.
Esperon said there are no talks yet if the Philippines and Russia will hold joint military exercises that are similar to the US-Philippines Balikatan Exercises but added it will be up to Defense Sec. Delfin Lorenzana to negotiate with his Russian counterparts if they will engage the two countries’ respective forces in joint activities.
“We have not gone into that. Let’s leave it to Sec. Lorenzana. It will come as a matter of course but I would say that military or military cooperation would be more on schooling technical exchange, information exchange, and intelligence exchange,” he said.
Lorenzana said that the Philippines will benefit from an enhanced defense cooperation by learning from the security expertise of Russia.
“We also want to get the techniques of others. Just like in other fields, it’s better to have a practicum,” he said.
He said that this will not affect the Philippines’ relationship with its long-time ally US as he described both ties between the two countries as “very balanced.”
He said that that the Philippines will pursue an “interdependent foreign policy” instead of “an independent foreign policy” to be able to continuously cooperate with other allied nations like China, Japan, and South Korea.
“By constitution, we must have an independent foreign policy but, in the current situation, it can no longer be an independent foreign policy but it must be an interdependent foreign policy. We are maintaining our alliances and we are also pursuing our robust relations with our neighbors,” he said.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said that it would be a big help if the Philippines will be given access to the Russian database, specifically in relation to terrorists.
Meanwhile, another agreement on military-technical cooperation is being worked on by the Department of National Defense (DND) and Russia’s Federal Service for Military-Technical Cooperation.
The discussions also zeroed in countering terrorism and transnational crimes with each side updating each other of their respective efforts to counter narcotic drugs and Russia manifesting that it could provide training for the Presidential Security Group (PSG) in connection with VIP protection and cooperation between the two countries’ law enforcement agencies as well as coast guards. (With a report from Francis T. Wakefield)
by Genalyn D. Kabiling and Antonio L. Colina IV