In the years after World War II, the world became polarized between the Western democracies led by the United States and the Communist nations led by the Soviet Union and rising China. The Philippines was firmly in the US camp, having been a colony for half a century and now newly liberated from occupation by Japan.
To this day, the Philippines’ relations with the US are close and firm. Over a million Filipinos live and work in the US and these are only the documented ones. There is not a family in the Philippines which does not have some relative in the US today.
Since last year, however, the new Duterte administration has carried out a major change in Philippine foreign relations and it is probably best demonstrated by a meeting last Tuesday at Clark in Pampanga, in which President Duterte met with the foreign ministers of the US, Russia, China, and Australia, to thank them for the military assistance they gave us in the just-concluded fighting in Marawi.
China and Russia, the President said, provided arms while the US and Australia extended valuable intelligence and technical support. Philippine Secretary of Defense Delfin Lorenzana and Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu signed an Agreement for Military-Technical Cooperation between the two countries.
President Duterte had earlier witnessed aboard one of two visiting Russian ships docked at the Manila port the donation of 5,000 Kalashnikov assault rifles, 20 army trucks, 5,000 steel helmets, and a million rounds of ammunition. Russian Ambassador to the Philippines Igor Khovaev assured there is no hidden agenda behind its donation of military equipment. Russia, he said, does not seek a dominant role in Asia; it just wants to strengthen its ties with the countries in this part of the world.
The Philippines remains bound by its Mutual Defense Pact with the US, which remains our principal ally in this part of the world. But we have moved decisively in the last few months to develop closer ties with Russia and China.
National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. said the donations of military equipment from these two countries provide diversity to the training and weaponry of Philippine armed forces. “We get more exposure to different technology as well as techniques, so that should be a welcome addition,” he said.
On the broader plane, the Russian and Chinese donations of military equipment reflect our efforts to develop a more independent foreign policy. We may yet serve as a bridge for peace and understanding between and among powerful rival nations asserting themselves in the world today.