POSTSCRIPT / March 20, 2022 / Sunday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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Duterte flips stance on Russian invasion

President Duterte appears to have softened his stance on the Russian invasion of Ukraine, assuring President Vladimir Putin that he is a friend and that the Philippines is neutral despite its having voted in the United Nations to condemn Putin’s attacking a neighbor.

President Duterte and President Putin. Photo: Maxim Shemetov/ AP

Pointing out that “it’s not our battle”, Duterte is now saying he would not send “his” soldiers to fight alongside American forces should the US be drawn into an expanded Russia-Ukraine war.

But nobody is asking Duterte to send Filipino soldiers (who he often refers to as his [“my”] soldiers) to fight in Europe or elsewhere. Neither has the US hinted it intends to deploy troops to help defend Ukraine.

At the inauguration Thursday of the new Leyte Provincial Government Complex, Duterte said: “There’s violence in Europe, and Russia has wreaked havoc there. So, we better maintain our neutrality. Let’s avoid meddling in it so that we won’t get involved.”

He added: “I won’t commit. If the Americans engage in a war and they’re here, why will I send my soldiers? It’s not our battle to fight. If the violence spills over and the war somehow gets here, that will be very difficult.

“I won’t, I really won’t. For as long as I’m President, I won’t send a single soldier of mine to go to war.”

Philippine Ambassador to the US José Manuel Romualdez said recently, however, that Duterte was ready to open the country’s military facilities to American forces if Russia’s war with Ukraine worsens and draws in the US.

This readiness was understood to be in the context of the 1951 PH-US Mutual Defense Treaty which commits both countries to come to the succor of the other if either one were attacked by an aggressor.

Malacañang also said earlier that the Philippines is “more than prepared” to accept war refugees from Ukraine. Women, children, and old Ukrainians have been seeking refuge in other countries, while all males 18-60 years of age stay to defend their cities.

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In Leyte, Duterte said: “With regard to Russia, I’m hurting. Putin is my friend. He’s a personal friend.” We have not heard or read any account of how he became a friend of the Russian strongman.

Duterte pivoted left to the communist bloc right after his election in 2016. He took the first of his five visits to Beijing as the occasion to announce the Philippines’ “separation” from the United States, its lone treaty ally.

Climbing the world stage, the former Davao City mayor also disclosed his dream of forging a Beijing-Manila-Moscow axis, although he never explained the details of that “axis” lurking in his mind.

Duterte is proceeding with the purchase of 17 military Mi-17 helicopters from Russia for P12.7 billion. The first batch of the helicopters is to be delivered by Russia’s Sovtechnoexport about 24 months after he leaves office on June 30.

He has visited Russia twice. The first visit in May 2017 was cut short by the terror siege in Marawi City. The second was in October 2019 when he spent five days in Moscow and Sochi during which he met with President Putin, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, Jordanian King Abdullah II, and chess grandmaster Anatoly Karpov.

• PH’s UN vote cleared with Duterte

We presume it was upon Duterte’s instructions that the Philippine mission joined 140 other delegations in the 193-member UN General Assembly in voting on Feb. 28 for a resolution condemning in strong terms Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.

It looks rather late, or at least embarrassing, for Duterte to explain now to his friend Putin that the Philippines is actually neutral, contrary to its open UN vote condemning Russia.

Even their common friend China was not able to bring itself to vote No, but only abstained with 34 other nations. Only four other members (Belarus, North Korea, Eritrea, and Syria) voted with Russia against the UNGA resolution.

Explaining China’s abstention, Ambassador Zhang Jun used more emotional language than at previous UN meetings. He cited “dramatic changes of the situation in Ukraine” and described as “heart-wrenching” the war in Ukraine.

The envoy reiterated Beijing’s support for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries, and for the peaceful settlement of disputes in line with the UN Charter. We sensed similar sentiments in the Philippines’ statement in voting for the condemnation.

The Philippine statement as posted on Twitter said in part:

“The Philippines votes YES to the UNGA resolution and expresses explicit condemnation of the invasion of Ukraine.

“In the current fog of lies, we have yet to determine the true casualties on both sides. We appeal for the protection of civilians and civilian infrastructures.

“We strongly urge the cessation of hostilities, but while an offense can be stopped at will the defense cannot rest until the offense stops.

“We call for massive assistance commensurate with the growing humanitarian crisis and echo the UN Secretary General’s appeal for respect of humanitarian principles to protect civilians and civilian infrastructures in Ukraine.

“Safe access to humanitarian assistance must be assured by the most effective means.

“The principle of sovereignty and the sovereign equality of States is enshrined in the UN Charter. All States enjoy the right to full sovereignty in all their areas of jurisdiction.

“The Charter of the UN requires sovereign states to refrain from the use of force against the political independence and territorial integrity of any state.

“We especially condemn the use of separatism and secession as a weapon of diplomacy for inviting and inflicting terrible cruelties and indiscriminate killings far in excess of that of any other kind of conflict. We saw this in the Balkans and in Africa.

“We strongly urge resort to the 1982 Manila Declaration on the Peaceful Settlement of International Disputes. It will at least halt the ongoing tragedy for a while.”

(First published in the Philippine STAR of March 20, 2022)

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