SAN MIGUEL, Bulacan - Russia is set to give the Philippines brand new firearms to boost the military arsenal, President Rodrigo Duterte bared Wednesday in yet another indication of warming ties between Manila and Moscow.
Duterte said the Russian government had wanted to keep the donation under wraps, but he announced it nonetheless saying the public would eventually know about it.
“We expect the arms to come in. It’s useless in keeping it a secret. If they dock the ships there, magtatanong talaga iyan kung ano ang dinidiskarga,” Duterte said in a speech during the groundbreaking of a military housing site here.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said the Russian donation, set to arrive on Oct. 22, is composed of 5,000 Kalashnikov rifles with about a million rounds of ammunition, and 20 military trucks.
“Hindi pa natin alam ang worth pero substantial na bigay iyan. Grant iyan, at no cost. Gusto tumulong ng Russia to fight terrorism kasi sila din is also fighting terrorism sa bansa nila,” Lorenzana told reporters.
Lorenzana said Moscow would hand over the donation without conditions.
The defense chief added that while the Philippines and Russia have yet to enter a defense cooperation agreement, Moscow is willing to accept small military contingents from Manila to observe Russian military exercises.
Since assuming the presidency, Duterte has sought to build stronger ties with Russia and China, considered rivals of the US, the Philippines’ long-standing Pacific ally. The Armed Forces has long relied on US hardware.
He had repeatedly expressed his desire to procure firearms from Russia, especially in the wake of reports that the US State Department had stopped its rifle sales to the Philippine National Police following opposition from US Senator Ben Cardin.
Just recently, China also turned over 3,000 units of assault rifles to the Philippines. Lorenzana said the rifles would be used by the Philippine National Police.
Duterte had earlier blasted the US for criticism against his war on drugs, saying China and Russia appear to better understand the Philippines' narcotics problem.
Until recently, however, he has softened his tone and adopted a friendlier stance towards Washington, citing the latter’s help in fighting terrorism in Mindanao.