Pre-Departure Briefing by DFA Assistant Secretary Maria Cleofe Natividad (DFA Office of European Affairs) on President Rodrigo Duterte’s Official Visit to Russia
Press Briefing Room, New Executive Building, Malacañang
19 May 2017


Thank you very much. Ladies and gentlemen of the media, good morning, magandang umaga po sa inyong lahat.

I am pleased to brief you today about the forthcoming visit of His Excellency President Rodrigo Roa Duterte to Russia, which he will undertake upon the invitation of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The visit is scheduled to be held next week from the 22nd to the 26th of May.

It will be the first visit of the President to Russia and we believe it will mark a new chapter in Philippine – Russia relations.

We also see this visit as an indication of our strong common desire to enhance and strengthen bilateral relations.

The Philippines and Russia celebrated 40 years of diplomatic ties last year. But despite of this almost 41 years, our bilateral engagement is still, we can say, at a nascent stage in practically all areas of cooperation.

The relations can be best described as cordial albeit modest in scope and depth.

Thus, we consider this visit as a landmark that will send a strong message of the Philippines’ commitment to seek new partnerships and strengthen relations with non-traditional partners such as Russia.

It is for this reason that the theme of the visit is “Building a Stronger Partnership, a New Chapter in Philippine-Russia Relations.”

There have already been a buildup towards this visit for it follows last year’s November meeting between President Duterte and President Putin in Lima, Peru at the sidelines of the APEC Summit Meeting in Peru.

Meanwhile, President Duterte and Prime Minister Medvedev also met in September last year during the ASEAN Summit.

The President’s program in Russia will be substantive. He will again meet President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev this time in Moscow.

Several bilateral agreements are expected to be signed during the visit. These agreements are those related to defense, security, legal assistance, trade and investment, peaceful use of nuclear energy and culture.

In Moscow, the President is also going to deliver a policy speech at the prestigious Moscow State Institute of International Relations or the MGIMO.

In that event, we expect the President to articulate his administration’s commitment to pursue an independent foreign policy that is anchored foremost on national interest considerations.

MGIMO, being an elite institution for diplomatic training and international relations, we likewise anticipate that the President will share his ideas on how to achieve peace and security, especially in the Asia Pacific region.

Both the Philippines and Russia recognize that there are — that there is a need also to explore the many untapped opportunities for mutually beneficial economic relations.

At the moment, Russian investments in the Philippines are very modest. And with this visit of the President, we hope we can start to correct that.

Bilateral trade is also an area which we could vastly improve upon.

For instance, bilateral trade in 2016 totaled only to 226 million dollars, with the Philippines experiencing a trade deficit of 49 million worth of — with the Philippines exporting only 49 millions dollars worth of goods to Russia.

Russian investments in the Philippines at best are still miniscule and Russian tourist arrivals in the Philippines are at around 38,000 only, still way below that of many ASEAN countries.

It is for this reason that the President is bringing with him an impressive business delegation who will participate in the Philippine – Russia Business Forum in Moscow.

The forum would be an opportune time to share with the Russian companies the benefits of doing business in the Philippines and the very positive investment climate, especially in such areas such 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.

And, of course, an important aspect of all the President’s overseas visit is his engagement with the Filipino community.

We expect him to be warmly welcomed by a good-sized Filipino community crowd. We have around 5,000 Filipinos in Russia and we heard that they are very strong supporters of the President.

So this is what I can share with you for now and we believe that the President’s visit will be the start of a strong and enduring partnership between the Philippines and Russia that is multidimensional, mutually beneficial and will be in keeping with the principles of sovereignty, non-interference and equality.

Thank you. Salamat po.


Joseph Morong (GMA): Ma’am, good morning. Ma’am, ‘yung sa Filcom lang, when is this going to be and ano ‘yung ine-expect natin from that gathering? 

ASEC. NATIVIDAD: Okay. The meeting with the Filipino community will be held on the second day of the visit.

And the President is going to meet the Filipinos not only in Moscow but in the other nearby countries bordering Russia.

And we understand that they are very strong supporters of the President and they are eagerly awaiting to hear from the President the developments in the Philippines and for that meeting to provide also a venue for them to express the needs on how the Philippine government can further reach out to our overseas Filipinos in Russia. 

Mr. Morong: Yeah, I’m sure there are people who are watching on Facebook and might be listening from Russia…


Mr. Morong: Would you be able to disclose… Is this a hotel that the gathering will be held in?

ASEC. NATIVIDAD: Yes, I understand that it will be in a hotel.

Mr. Morong: Can we disclose what?

ASEC. NATIVIDAD: I think at the moment, it’s tentatively being arranged at the Four Seasons Hotel. 

Pia Ranada (Rappler): Sir, we… Ma’am, we also know that the President is going to St. Petersburg. May we know what events he will have there?

ASEC. NATIVIDAD: Okay. Yes, the President is also going to St. Petersburg and he…

There will be a welcome for him at one of the Palaces and he will be also visiting a military shipyard and also there will be a business forum.

Ms. Ranada: Ma’am, when will his bilateral meetings with Russian officials like President Putin be held?

ASEC. NATIVIDAD: Okay. The bilateral meetings between Prime Minister Medvedev and President Putin will be held on the 24th and the 25th of May, the first and second day of the official visit.

And there he will be discussing important issues and areas of cooperation and economic partnership with Prime Minister Medvedev and with President Putin on the cooperation in political, military and defense.

Ms. Ranada: Ma’am, can we have more details on the agreements to be signed? Even just maybe what details that you can disclose about the agreements? 

ASEC. NATIVIDAD: Okay. There are several agreements that will be signed during the visit and for the meeting between the President and President Putin, the two Presidents will witness agreements that are related to defense cooperation, military and technical cooperation, the treaty on mutual legal assistance in criminal matters, treaty on extradition, an MOU on cooperation in the field of security between respective national security councils. 

Chona Yu (Inquirer Radio): Ma’am, doon sa defense military cooperation, kasama na ba ‘yon ‘yung sinasabi ng Pangulo na bibili ng armas ‘yung Pilipinas sa Russia na buy one, take one?

ASEC. NATIVIDAD: The agreement on military technical cooperation will pave the way for the Philippines to explore a possibility of procurement from — military procurement from Russia.

And there is really nothing that would stop Russia from participating in the modernization program, defense modernization program of the Philippines.

And Secretary Lorenzana has already mentioned that the Philippines is looking for partnership with countries wherein we can get the best deals and also the ones that would be most compatible with the defense and needs of the Philippines especially in the aspect of interoperability.

Cecil Morella (AFP): Good morning, ma’am. My name is Cecil Morella of the French news agency. I’d like to know when this visit was planned? Was it planned long before… Has there always been a plan to improve relations with Russia or the impetus was created by President Duterte when he came into office? And was it not the reason that our relations were on ice is because of our security ties with the United States and what happens now when we are seeking similar relations with the other superpower? 

ASEC. NATIVIDAD: Okay. When the visit was planned as I mentioned earlier in my opening remarks, our partnership with Russia has been ongoing for 40 years but there has been no great impetus to strengthen and deepen the partnership. And it is to the credit of President Duterte that he saw the need to diversify and to strengthen our partnership with other countries other than our traditional allies.

So, it was… It was… The visit came about as a result of his meetings between Prime Minister Medvedev last year and also his meeting with President Putin during the APEC Summit in Peru. It was there that President Putin extended to President Duterte his invitation for the President to visit Russia.

The second question is on whether this visit is coming only now. Well, it is in consistent… It is consistent with the President’s pursuit for an independent foreign policy. 

An independent foreign policy does not mean that it will diminish our partnership, our relations with our traditional partners but we are seeking to enrich our partnership with countries that share mutual interest with us and with whom we can find — with whom we can pursue our national interest as I’ve mentioned based on the principles of non-interference, mutual respect, respect for our sovereignty and pursuit of mutually beneficial relations. 

Mr. Morella: Who was the last Filipino President to visit Russia, ma’am, or the Soviet Union? 

ASEC. NATIVIDAD: There were visits before. President Ramos came to Russia and President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo also visited Russia to attend, I think, the St. Petersburg conference. 

Mr. Morong: Ma’am, just a follow up on his question. Ito po ‘yung first na inimbitahan ng Russian President ang isang Filipino President? Or in our previous Presidents meron namang upon the invitation of the Russians? 

ASEC. NATIVIDAD: Yes, there were invitations also. President Fidel Ramos visited Russia also upon the invitation of Russia. 

Mr. Morong: Si Ramos po ‘yung last? 

ASEC. NATIVIDAD: Ye… Ah President Ramos but then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo also came to Russia to attend an international conference and there it became a working visit. So she also had interactions with high-level… 

Mr. Morong: This one, ma’am, state? 

ASEC. NATIVIDAD: This one is an official visit. This one is an official visit.

Mr. Morong: Not state? 

ASEC. NATIVIDAD: Not state visit. This is an official visit. 

Mr. Morong: Because? Ma’am, why not state?

ASEC. NATIVIDAD: Well, it depends really on the inviting host — the host country — to determine whether they will accord the status of an official or state visit. 

But the way the DFA views this, this is as important as state visit if you would look at the quality of meetings that the President will be having with the Russian officials. 

He will be meeting with no less than President Putin and the Prime Minister and also he will be bringing… The President will be bringing a heavy — a top-level Cabinet members with him to explore and strengthen all aspects of cooperation. Importance wise, for us, we view this as equal to that of a state visit.

Mr. Morong: Can you say that the Russian will roll out the red carpet for the President? 

ASEC. NATIVIDAD: Definitely, definitely, yes. And, in fact, the invitation was made much earlier as early as January.

And because of the President’s very busy schedule because of the hosting of the Philippines of the ASEAN and our chairmanship, you know, the President had to ask the kindness of the Russian Government to delay it a little bit and also waiting for a good weather.

Mr. Morella: Could you give us more meat on the defense and security cooperation agreements to be signed? What do the Russians want with us? Do they want to hold Balikatan as well with us on an annual basis? Do they want to join us in security patrols perhaps? Or train our forces in counter-terrorism something like that?

ASEC. NATIVIDAD: Okay. The defense cooperation with Russia would cover greater opportunities for consultation and cooperation in security-related matters, traditional security and non-traditional security matters.

We welcome Russia’s greater participation and involvement in the Asia Pacific region. After all they are already very much engaged in the region through their participation in ASEAN, in APEC and in other dialogue fora.

And for the defense cooperation, we look forward to having greater exchanges in terms of views on how to approach security challenges and we also look forward to strengthening our presence in terms of the defense offices both in Moscow and here in Manila.

We are looking forward actually to opening soon an Office of Defense Attaché in Moscow and also the Russian Government will also be opening defense office here in Manila to further strengthen our partnership in approaching both traditional and non-traditional security matters such as terrorism, cooperation in anti-terrorism efforts, cooperation against, you know, combating drugs — anti-illegal drugs and trafficking, and others.

Mr. Morella: Would you know if they also want to station forces here like the Americans or maybe use Subic Bay or some of our other bases to service their warships?

ASEC. NATIVIDAD: Well, as you are aware, the Russian warships have already visited the Philippines twice this year.

So it is more into that aspect of becoming more familiar with each other’s competence that we are looking at and there is no discussion at the moment in terms of, you know, joint exercises, our status sa visiting forces.

There has just been recent changes regarding the Filipino community event. I think because of now the increasing number of Filipinos who would like to participate, they are now looking at an alternative venue because the Four Seasons Hotel might not be able to accommodate the burgeoning number of Filipinos who would like to meet the President.

You know, in the last elections, we understand that around 75 percent of Filipinos in Russia voted for the President, 75 percent.

Mr. Morong: Second day you mean the 23rd ‘yung schedule po?

ASEC. NATIVIDAD: Yes, it will be from the 23rd until the 26th.

Mr. Morong: Ma’am, but the Filcom is you said second day so 24?

ASEC. NATIVIDAD: Yeah, that would be on the 25th actually, 25th, yeah.

Mr. Morong: Putin?

ASEC. NATIVIDAD: Also on the 25th. Yeah, you will be very, very busy. The President will also have a wreath laying, the traditional wreath laying ceremony then he will be meeting, yeah, with President — with Prime Minister Medvedev and then he will be addressing this very important institute, the MGIMO, and there will be exciting activities during that…

Mr. Morong: Also on the 25th?

ASEC. NATIVIDAD: All on the… That is on the 24th. Then on the 25th will be the, of course, the star activity which is the meeting with President Putin in a restricted and expanded setup.

Yeah. And then there will be the business forum, signing of agreements, and then meeting with the Filipino community and also there will be, of course, the press conference.

Ms. Ranada: Ma’am, just to clarify. There will be a bilateral meeting and a restricted meeting with Putin? Is that right?

ASEC. NATIVIDAD: Not really restricted. Just a smaller meeting between the President Duterte and President Putin and also an expanded one.

Ms. Ranada: Ah so the smaller meeting will involve just President Duterte, Putin…

ASEC. NATIVIDAD: On a more personal… 

Ms. Ranada: And then an expanded bilateral? 


Ms. Ranada: Okay. Thank you.

ASEC. NATIVIDAD: Thank you very much. See you all in Moscow.