Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte is open to having joint war exercises with Russia, Malacañang Palace said on Thursday, January 5.
Philippine Presidential Spokesperson Ernesto Abella, however, clarified, that Duterte remains opposed to the permanent stay of foreign soldiers in the country.
Following the arrival of two Russian Navy vessels earlier this week, Russia said that is considering holding joint exercises with the Philippine Navy that focus on countering piracy and terrorism.
The anti-submarine Navy vessel Admiral Tributs and sea tanker Boris Butoma docked in Manila on Tuesday, January 3, for a five-day goodwill visit.
During a press conference, Eduard Mikhailov, deputy commander of Flotilla of Pacific Fleet of Russia, said that the Russian and Philippine governments are open to discussing “the possibilities of our maritime exercises.”
“The Philippine Navy needs some help, we will help. The problem here is terrorism and piracy. You have the task to fight this problem and we will show you what we can do,” Mikhailov added.
The Russian government said that Moscow is not seeking a “military alliance” with Manila.
Malacañang said the goodwill visit by the Russian Navy “will contribute to the strengthening of friendship with the Philippine Navy.”
“It also is an indication that our maritime cooperation can further be enhanced to enable diplomacy and camaraderie,” Abella added.
Upon visiting the two Russian warships on Friday, January 6, Duterte asked the Russian Navy contingent to visit the country more often.
“Mabuhay kayo (Long live)! It’s from the heart. I hope you can come back more often,” Duterte said, addressing the foreign navy after the signing of warship’s guestbook.
On Friday afternoon, Duterte was escorted by Mikhailov and Russian Ambassador to the Philippines Igor Khovaev around the Admiral Tributs.
Duterte also expressed his hope that Russia would become Philippines’ ally and protector.
“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,” Duterte said as he shook hands with Mikhailov.
Duterte made the remarks following Khovaev’s earlier statement that Russia is open to supplying the Philippines with firearms.
In a press briefing on Wednesday, January 4, Khovaev said that Russia is “interested not only in the long-term supply of weapons, but also in maintenance.”
“We are also ready to provide assistance to build on defense,” Khovaev added, noting that this particular partnership has “no political conditionality.”
Duterte, who is scheduled to visit Russia in April, has been seeking closer ties with the European country, as well as China.
These moves have been part of his decision pursue an “independent foreign policy” and tilting away from the United States, the Philippines’ long-time ally.