PH-Russia work towards stronger defense ties

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, October 4) — President Rodrigo Duterte and Russian President Vladimir Putin have vowed to strengthen defense ties.

In his second official visit to Russia, Duterte reaffirmed the country’s commitment to a “robust and comprehensive” Philippine-Russia partnership.

Speaking before world leaders in the Valdai forum in Sochi on Thursday, Duterte reiterated his pronouncement that he is eyeing to diversify the country’s weapons system.

“Over the years, I have seen that the foreign policy of the Philippines was always tailored to that of the US and we can hardly go to some communist countries just to explore trade and commerce. It was looked upon as not a pleasant time, not a new development,” Duterte said.

“I wanted something more ... Even in the purchase of arms,” Duterte added.

Early this week, the Armed Forces of the Philippines said it may buy 16 chopper units and is open to buy arms from Russia, as part of its modernization program, which the President wants to see completed before his term ends. In 2017, Russia, the world’s second largest arms exporter, has donated defense gear to the Philippines, in a bid to expand its arms market in Southeast Asia.

In June this year, Duterte said he will reconsider buying arms from the United States, the country’s biggest supplier of weapons, after it threatened to sanction allies, such as the Philippines, engaging in deals with Russia. He later retracted his statement because he said he is fond of US President Donald Trump.

He also criticized the weapons from the US, saying some of them were of “bad” quality, after expressing his disappointment over the country's, which is deemed as the world's superpower, 2016 decision to halt the planned sale of more than 20,000 assault rifles to the Philippine National Police after U.S. Democrat Senator Ben Cardin raised concerns over alleged human rights violations in the Philippines’ drug war.

“Even in the purchase of arms and the things they have given us, some were good, some were bad, some given to us were refurbished from NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization),” Duterte said.

“That was the time I was also criticized heavily the human rights of US Congress and to my surprise, even United Nations’ human rights commission,” he said.

In several speeches, Duterte has also credited Russia for giving the Philippines arms, while chiding the US — his country's traditional ally — for holding off an arms deal amid human rights concerns surrounding his drug war.

Duterte also had an “amiable and fruitful” bilateral meeting with Putin, Palace spokesman Salvador Panelo said in a statement.

He also informed the Russian leader of the progress in their defense relationship, citing the “unprecedented” goodwill visit of the Philippine Navy in Russia as well as the setting up of defense attaches in both countries, “which is an indication of the long-term commitment to enhance defense relations between the Philippines and Russia,” Panelo said.

Putin assures Duterte of help in anti-terror campaign

Putin assured that his country is ready to assist the Philippines in fighting terrorism during his fourth meeting with Duterte.

"Dear Mr. President, we are ready to continue to offer partnership in the area of counter-terrorism efforts, to share our experience and practices," Putin said during the bilateral meeting with Duterte, according to a transcript posted on the Russian leader's website.

Putin noted how Duterte “managed to considerably bring down the level of the terrorist threat in the country and strengthen the potential of law enforcement agencies."

He also expressed interest to work with the Philippines in expanding industrial cooperation, establishing peaceful use of nuclear energy, space exploration and the use of digital technologies.

Both Putin and Duterte acknowledged the Marawi siege, which cut short the Philippine leader’s first trip to Russia in 2016.

Duterte underscored the need to sustain dialogues between Manila and Moscow’s foreign ministries, national security councils and economic agencies.

“I am, therefore, happy to continue our dialogue with the view of identifying vital areas of cooperation which will concentrate on our efforts in the coming years,” Duterte said.

This is not the first time that Putin has offered the Philippines help to fight terrorism.

After the Jolo blasts in January, Putin said Russia is ready “to further step up interaction with our Philippine partners in combating the terrorist threat in all its forms and manifestations.”