MANILA – Malacañang on Thursday said President Rodrigo Duterte will drop by a Russian warship docked in Manila tomorrow, in yet another sign of the Philippines’ determination to forge closer ties with Russia, a rival of its traditional ally the United States.
"He will be flying…I think he is in Davao. He will be flying to --- coming soon. I think he is visiting the Russian ship tomorrow," said Presidential spokesperson Ernesto Abella in a news conference, after being asked about the whereabouts of the president.
Abella welcomed Russian officials’ pronouncements saying Moscow is ready to help the Philippines enhance its military capabilities and cooperate in the advancement of the two countries’ common interests.
"The President has said before that he is open to joint military exercises with Russia. The goodwill visit by the Russian Navy will contribute to the strengthening of friendship with the Philippine Navy. It also is an indication that our maritime cooperation can further be enhanced to enable diplomacy and camaraderie,” Abella said.
“Also in conversation with the Secretary of the National Defense, he said that all of these things will be dependent on the signing of an MOU which was initiated in 2014 and this will provide the framework regarding the terms of engagement from military to military, visiting students, cultural exchanges and joint military exercises."
The visit was only the third ever by Russian military vessels to the Philippines, according to the Filipino Navy's Commodore Francisco Cabudao, who led the welcoming ceremony for the Russian ships.
Duterte has thrown the future of Philippine-US relations into question with angry outbursts against the former colonial power and some scaling back of military ties while taking steps to boost ties with China and Russia.
Illustrating the transformation of Philippine foreign relations since Duterte took office in June, two Russian warships are on four-day visit to Manila this week, the first official navy-to-navy contact between the two countries.
The Russian navy visit comes less than a month after Duterte sent his foreign and defense ministers to Moscow to discuss arms deals after a US senator said he would block the sale of 26,000 assault rifles to the Philippines due to concern about a rising death toll in a war on drugs launched by Duterte.
Amid the flagging ties between the US and Philippines under Duterte, Russia said it is willing to hold joint military exercises with the Philippines. Russia also said it is ready to supply the Philippines with sophisticated weapons including aircraft and submarines.
Rear Admiral Eduard Mikhailov, head of the Flotilla of the Russian Navy Pacific Fleet, said on Tuesday Russia wanted to hold maritime exercises with the Philippines to help combat terrorism and piracy.
The United States and the Philippines have been holding naval exercises annually but Duterte has decided to reduce the number of exercises and to move naval drills away from the disputed South China Sea, to reassure China, which is suspicious of U.S. military movements in the disputed waters. – with Reuters, AFP