MANILA (UPDATED)— President Rodrigo Duterte on Thursday said the country is maintaining its neutrality on Russia's invasion of Ukraine, despite mounting international sanctions on Moscow.
In his speech at Palo town in Leyte, Duterte described Russian President Vladimir Putin as his friend, but lamented that civilians were killed during Russia's invasion.
Duterte earlier called Putin "suicidal" for invading Ukraine, in what is considered as the biggest attack in the continent since World War II.
"Ibang lugar sa mundo nagpatayan na Europe, Russia nagwala na doon, so we better, ang ating neutrality, we just maintain it, umiwas tayo para hindi tayo madamay, hindi ako mag-commit," Duterte said in Bisaya.
"Kung ako, kung pupunta dito ang mga Amerikano, kung sasabihin ko ipapadala ang mga sundalo, hindi natin iyan away, mag-spillover, kung mapunta ang giyera dito mahirap yan, ayaw ko. Ako pa ang Presidente, hindi ako papayag kahit isang sundalo, hindi natin away yan, wag tayong makialam," he added.
Duterte earlier said the country had to take sides, recalling a proverb that the hottest place in hell is reserved for people who chose to be neutral in times of crisis.
The Philippine ambassador in Washington earlier said the President was open to offering the country's facilities to the United States, in case the war spills over to Asia.
Earlier this month, the country explicitly condemned Russia's war with Ukraine, with Malacañang saying that "war benefits no one."
Duterte has approved economic measures to cushion the blow on the Philippines of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, which includes boosting the domestic economy and releasing some P3 billion in fuel subsidy and discount vouchers for transport drivers.
Ukraine accused Russia earlier in the day of bombing a theater that was sheltering more than 1,000 civilians in the city of Mariupol, after US President Joe Biden branded Putin a "war criminal".
The United Nations said the Russia's invasion of Ukraine has killed at least 636 civilians, including 46 children, Reuters reported.
Almost 2 million people have fled to Poland from Ukraine since Russia launched its invasion on Feb. 24.
— With reports from Agence France-Presse and Reuters