(Second of a series on year 1 of the Duterte administration. -- Eds)
Foreign policy pivot and its impact on PH-Russia ties
MOSCOW - In the "Captain America" movies, the Russian military brainwashes Bucky Barnes and transforms him into a bionic killing machine. It's a decades-old villain sterotype that the Philippines hopes to change as President Rodrigo Duterte finds a new ally in Russia.
While condemned in the West over his bloody war on drugs, Duterte is portrayed in Russia as a strong and beloved leader who refuses to be dictated upon by the US, its former colonial master, said Ambassador Carlos Sorreta.
"The new horizon now includes Russia," Sorreta told ABS-CBN News."Moscow used to be on the edge of our foreign policy. Now, it's all about balancing our interests, balancing our opportunities."
Since Duterte's whirlwind visit to Russia in May, Sorreta said his 10 staff members and three diplomatic officers have been overwhelmed.
"My staffing pattern is just slightly post-Cold War," Sorreta said jokingly. By next year, the Philippine Embassy in Moscow will have a commercial attaché and a defense attaché, he said.
"The work has increased. It shows greater interaction. This is interaction that never happened before maybe no need to examine why," he said.
Even as Duterte's trip was cut short due to fighting between the military and Islamic State-inspired militants in Marawi City, Filipino and Russian officials signed cooperation agreements on nuclear energy, defense and tourism.
Last week, Filipino officials attended for the first time Atom Expo, an annual showcase by the Russian State Atomic Energy Corp or ROSATOM where Mindanao's A Brown agreed with the firm's international arm to promote nuclear energy in the Philippines.
"Everybody has been thinking about stereotypes," A Brown president Roel Castro told ABS-CBN News. "But there are positive benefits coming from nuclear technology and we've had good talks with ROSATOM."
Sorreta blames the steady stream of Hollywood blockbusters for the negative image of Russians. In the first "Avengers" movie, Russian gangsters threatened to push a tied-up Black Widow off a ledge.
For older generations, the James Bond franchise had no shortage of Russian villains and femme fatales for the titular super spy.
Russians also tend to view Philippines as "very close" to the US and Washington is seen as having "more influence that (Manila) probably should be allowing," Sorreta said.
"After the visit of the President, and his very good discussion with President Putin, Russians are getting a better understanding of Filipinos," he said.
Ahead of his arrival in Moscow, state-run Russia Today ran an interview Duterte, wherein the Filipino leader slammed the West for "double talk."
"The President is very in popular in Russia. He's always in the news and in a good way... He is portrayed as a strong leader, a leader that is supported by majority of the people, honest, strong enemy of drugs and crime," Sorretta said.
Duterte's drug war has landed on the cover of US-based Time Magazine and a photo feature by the New York Times won this year's top prize at the World Press Photo Awards.
Aside from trade and energy, defense offers the greatest potential for cooperation between Manila and Moscow, Sorreta said.
And Duterte said as much in his interview with Russia Today.
"I think that they are more sophisticated, more precise. And I said that since Russia is brighter than America, I’ll go to Russia," he said.