By Genalyn Kabiling and Francis Wakefield
Amid improving bilateral defense ties, Russia has donated a shipload of weapons and military vehicles to the Philippine military to help boost its counterterrorism capability.
The military donation, received by President Duterte and defense and security officials, consisted of 5,000 Kalashnikov assault rifles, 20 army trucks, 5,000 steel helmets, and a million rounds of ammunition.
The President witnessed the turnover of the military equipment after his tour inside one of the two Russian ships docked at the Manila port. Duterte did not deliver any speech but was seen thanking the Russian defense officials for the military aid.
The donation came a day after the Philippines and Russia signed an agreement on military and technical cooperation on the sidelines of a defense ministers’ meeting in Clark, Pampanga. A contract on supplying weapons and ammunition to the Philippines was also signed the other day.
National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. said the government welcomes the Russian military aid amid enhanced defense cooperation between the two countries.
“This is the occasion for the donation by Russia of AK 47 and 20 trucks which indeed we really need,” Esperon said in a media interview after the ceremony. “The AK-47 are not in our inventory so we will see how they can be distributed because units can’t have different weapons but more likely, this will be concentrated in specific units,” he added.
Esperon also downplayed speculations that the country’s defense ties with Russia might harm relations with Moscow’s traditional rival, the United States.
“All ships of friendly countries are welcome the Philippine ports,” he said about the latest visit of the Russian ships to the country.
“It provides diversity to our kind of training, meaning we get more exposure to different technology as well as techniques, so that should be a welcome addition,” he added.
Among the officials present during the turnover ceremony were Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu and Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano.
The Department of National Defense (DND), for its part, said Russia’s donation of military equipment to the Philippines deepens the two countries relationship.
In a telephone interview, DND spokesman Director Arsenio Andolong, welcomed the donation from the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation to the Republic of the Philippines, which is expected to be used primarily in counter-terrorism.
“This gesture by the Russian Federation is a sign of deepening relations that we are developing with Russia and the equipment donated will be used in various operations by the Armed Forces of the Philippines but primarily in counter terrorism efforts,” Andolong said.
Andolong said Russia’s donation to the Philippines of the military equipment is a way for it to expand its network in other countries.
“Actually, Russia is also expanding its network with other nations in the global community. Tayo din ganun ang ginawa natin pag-upo ni President Duterte (On our part we also did that when President Duterte assumed the presidency),” Andolong said.
“We are also broadening our relationship with other countries. So nagkatugma lang na I think this is the right time to forge our cooperation with Russia,” he added.