PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte is considering joint naval exercises with Russia as a move to enhance the two countries’ maritime ties, a Palace official said on Thursday.
In a news conference, presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said Duterte saw the visit by two Russian vessels in Manila as a sign that the Philippines could strengthen its “naval diplomacy” with Russia.
“The President has said before that he is open to joint military exercises with Russia. The goodwill visit of the Russian Navy will contribute to the strengthening of friendship with the Philippine Navy,” Abella told reporters.
Last Tuesday, Admiral Tributs, a 6,930-ton Project 1155 Udaloy I-class anti-submarine warfare destroyer originally built for the Soviet Navy, and Boris Butoma, a Chilikin-class fleet replenishment oil tanker, arrived at Pier 15 of Manila’s South Harbor for a five-day goodwill visit.
President Duterte is scheduled to visit one of the ships on Friday.
Abella however said, citing the advise of Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, that “these things (exercises) will be dependent on the signing of an MOU (memorandum of understanding), which was initiated in 2014.”
The MOU will provide the framework for engagement between Filipino and Russian troops.
“[That will include] military to military [exchanges], visiting students, mutual exchanges, and joint military exercises,” Abella said.
Philippine and Russian defense officials met in Moscow in April 2016 to discuss possible areas of cooperation, the Department of Foreign Affairs said in May. Among the issues discussed was the planned Philippine-Russia Memorandum of Understanding on Defense Cooperation.
Duterte has been seeking to establish closer relations with Moscow as part of a pivot from the US, which has criticized his policies on human rights and his bloody war on drugs.
Duterte has repeatedly expressed admiration for Russian President Vladimir Putin, while lambasting outgoing US President Barack Obama for criticizing his war on drugs.
Abella said Duterte had expressed his interest in working with both Russia and China “to make this world peaceful.”
Passing exercise set
On Thursday, a Philippine Navy official said a frigate of the Philippine Navy and Russia’s Admiral Tributs will be conducting a bilateral passing exercise (Passex) as the latter and Boris Butoma leave the country on Saturday.
Once a destroyer escort of the United States Navy, the BRP Rajah Humabon (PF-11) will be participating in the exercise on Saturday with Admiral Tributs.
It was Rajah Humabon that rendered customary meeting procedures for the Russian ships at the vicinity of Corregidor Island, and escorted the vessels to their designated berthing area.
The Passex, said Capt. Lued Lincuna, Navy spokesman, was aimed at improving maritime capabilities between the two navies.
The visit includes a series of confidence-building engagements between Philippine navy and Russian Navy personnel, such as a courtesy call on the Philippine Navy chief by the Russian ambassador to the Philippines, Igor Anatolyevich Khovaev, and Rear Admiral Eduard Mikhailov, deputy commander of flotilla of the Pacific Fleet of Russia, together with the ships’ commanding officers.
Lincuna said the passing exercise was part of the Philippine Navy’s meeting procedure.
“During Passex, there will be voice contact through radio, then afterwards they meet for the passing exercise then our Navy will bid farewell to them… They will do some maneuvers. In order for them to have a good Passex then you have [to]maneuver your ships through voice communication,” he explained.
There will be firing, and the process will take 30 minutes to an hour, Lincuna said.
The Russian Navy’s visit was the third. The first, Lincuna recalled, was in January 2012 involving Admiral Panteleyev, who brought Boris Butoma and Fotiy Krylov, a rescue tug. The second was in May 2016, when Marshall Gelovani, a hydrographic vessel, berthed in South Harbor for re-supply and replenishment.
Mikhailov said Tuesday the Russian Navy was planning to hold war games with the Philippines that would focus on maritime piracy and terrorism, which he described as the region’s two top security concerns.
“We’re very sure that in the future we’ll get such exercises with you, maybe just the maneuvering or maybe use some combat systems and so on,” he said.