December 12, 2017 | MANILA, PHILIPPINES

Duterte to visit Russia,
to ink defense agreement

PRESIDENT Rodrigo R. Duterte is set to visit Russia next week in a five-day Official Visit and is expected to ink a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to beef up Philippine defense.

Foreign Affairs Assistant Secretary Maria Cleofe Natividad, in a press briefing yesterday morning, said Mr. Duterte is set to visit Moscow upon the invitation of his Russian counterpart and “idol,” Vladimir Putin, on May 22-26.

Ms. Natividad said Mr. Duterte will sign a deal on military cooperation. “The agreement on military technical cooperation will pave the way for the Philippines to explore a possibility of...military procurement from Russia,” Ms. Natividad said.

On related matter, Defense Chief Delfin N. Lorenzana on Tuesday, May 16, said the Philippine government signed a letter of intent to buy defense equipment from China’s largest state-owned arms maker and exporting company, Poly Technologies.

However, Mr. Lorenzana noted that the document is not binding.

The official announcement of Mr. Duterte’s official visit to Russia also coincided with the culmination of the Balikatan Exercises between the Philippine and American troops.

Mr. Duterte is also looking to acquire defense assets from Israel. He is also expected to visit Israel, but Malacañang has yet to set a date for the visit.

Other deals to be inked in the five-day official visit include a “treaty on mutual legal assistance in criminal matters, treaty on extradition, (and) an MOU on cooperation in the field of security between respective national security councils.”

The visit is also expected to explore possibilities on greater trade with Russia. Ms. Natividad said Mr. Duterte will bring with him “an impressive business delegation,” noting that “bilateral trade in 2016 totaled only to 226 million dollars,...with the Philippines exporting only 49 millions dollars worth of goods to Russia.”

Ms. Natividad said they are expecting to entice Russian companies to do business in the Philippines and seize the “very positive investment climate, especially in such areas… as infrastructure, energy, transportation, tourism and others.”

“The Department of Trade and Industry and other government agencies, together with the private and business sectors, are working together to achieve concrete results of closer economic cooperation,” Ms. Natividad added.

She also qualified the upcoming trip as an official visit. According to the Official Gazette, an official visit does not require a luncheon or dinner, unlike a state visit which “[reflects] the highest level of hospitality, honor and formality in relations between nations.”

However, Ms. Natividad said the DFA deems this visit “as important as state visit.” She added that Mr. Putin’s invitation was extended as early as January.