‘Friends, long live’: Duterte courts Russia as ally and protector as he tours visiting warship
President Rodrigo Duterte said on Friday that he hoped Moscow, a rival of the Philippine’s traditional ally the United States, would become his country’s ally and protector as he toured one of the two Russian warships on a four-day visit to Manila.
Duterte’s remarks came a day after Russia’s ambassador said his country was ready to supply the Philippines with sophisticated weapons and aims to become its close friend.
“We welcome our Russian friends. Anytime you want to dock here for anything, for play, for replenish supplies or maybe our ally to protect us,” said Duterte.
Rear Admiral Eduard Mikhailov, deputy commander of Russia’s Pacific Fleet, and Russian Ambassador Igor Khovaev escorted Duterte and several cabinet members around the anti-submarine ship Admiral Tributs.
Russia is eyeing naval exercises with the Philippines and deployed the Admiral Tributs and sea tanker Boris Butoma on a goodwill visit to Manila.
At one point during the hour-long visit, Duterte looked out from the ship’s deck and pumped his fist in the air. He was also shown equipment and weapons on board the ship and peered from binoculars from a chair. He took a group picture with the Russians also posing in his trademark pose – with arm stretched out at chest-level and fists closed.
After signing a guest book, he said “Friends, long live!” He added: “That’s from the heart; I hope you can come back more often.”
Filipinos were also allowed to tour the huge ships and Russian marines demonstrated their combat capabilities. Tobacco and beer magnate Lucio Tan, the 4th richest Filipino according to Forbes magazine, was among civilians who toured the ship.
Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, who accompanied Duterte on the ship tour, expressed optimism about “the start of a partnership” between the two countries’ defence establishments when he met with Russian navy officials on Thursday night.
“May our common aspirations for regional and global peace and security enable us to become good partners, cooperating and coordinating towards tranquil and safe seas for all,” Lorenzana said on board the Admiral Tributs.
He said during his trip to Russia in early December, he agreed with Russian defence officials to finalise a memorandum of understanding that will be the basis of future military engagements, including joint military exercises, so it can be signed during Duterte’s planned trip to Russia in April.
Duterte has thrown the future of Philippine-US relations into question with angry outbursts against the United States, a former colonial power, and some scaling back of military ties while taking steps to improve relationships with China and Russia. He is due to go to Moscow in April. The visit by the Russian warships was the first official navy-to-navy contact between the two countries.
Last month, Duterte sent his foreign and defence 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.
Mikhailov said on Tuesday Russia wanted to hold maritime exercises with the Philippines to help combat terrorism and piracy.
Reuters, Associated Press