29 Aug 2017

Filipino Ambassador to Russia Carlos Sorreta: Seems that cooperating with Russia is good for fighting terrorism

Filipino Ambassador to Russia Carlos Sorreta has given an interview to Interfax in which he speaks about prospects for Russian-Filipino cooperation in the military-technical sphere, as well possible cooperation on anti-terrorism, energy, investments and tourism.

Question: Mr. Ambassador, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has recently visited Moscow and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has recently visited Manila. What is your assessment of bilateral relations between the two countries?

Answer: I think that our bilateral relations are at the highest point they have ever been since we started our relations 41 years ago. I think this can be clearly evidenced by the exchange of visits. We have had, aside fr om the president, top cabinet members visit here, and have had technical level visits. The momentum is picking up, and I am confident we can maintain it.

Q.: Russia and the Philippines discussed several agreements during President Duterte‘s visit to Russia. One of them dealt with military and technical cooperation. What arms does Manila want to purchase?

A.: During the visit, we were able to sign two security-related agreements. One was between our Ministries of Defense and the other between the Russian Security Council and our National Security Council. We still have three other agreements pending. One of these is a military and technical cooperation agreement. We have negotiated that and that should be ready for signing soon. In terms of what the cooperation will constitute, we really are looking towards training, exchange of intelligence and military equipment transfer.

Q.:: What kind of equipment?

A.: Right now, for the short term, we are looking at equipment that will strengthen our internal security capabilities. See, right now we are fighting some ISIS-associated terrorists in the Philippines. We need some equipment for that, which means small arms, man-portable rockets, and related materials. We are also looking at some equipment that may be little more costly, like helicopters. In the long term, it is possible we may cooperate on external defense equipment. But the focus now, for the immediate term, is to strengthen our ability to fight terrorists effectively.
I met with Ambassador [Riyad] Haddad of Syria last Tuesday. We exchanged views on the effectiveness of working with Russian equipment in Syria, where the conditions are very harsh. During our discussions, it was clear that Russian equipment is very sturdy. They work well even when being used all the time. He also said that the intelligence exchange was very, very good. So we are hoping all this will help us. And we‘re - Philippines and Syria -- essentially both fighting terrorism. Seems that cooperating with Russia is good for fighting terrorism.

Q.:: When do you expect the contracts to be signed?

A.: I‘m hoping not just the contracts to be signed but the deliveries to be soon, because there are very particular equipment we need right now.

Q.: Under what conditions do you want to purchase the equipment?

A.: We do have funding to purchase arms, but Russia is very flexible on financing terms. In fact, I was speaking to the Indonesian Ambassador and he said that they are buying the new Sukhoi Su-35 and they are paying in palm oil and coffee. So, that is like a barter deal. So Russia is quite flexible on the financing, on schedule of payment. I think Russia wants to be able to let us use the equipment. They are eager to sell it to us. We have never used Russian equipment before. None of our soldiers have trained on Russian equipment. I think Russia wants us to experience that these can work under the harshest conditions.

Q.: And now about anti-terrorist cooperation, which is a rather essential issue right now. What are the prospects for bilateral cooperation in this sphere?

A.: We are already exchanging information.

Q.: You mean intelligence data?

A.: Yes, intelligence data. I cannot go into details, but we are already exchanging intelligence information. We are also already engaged in some degree of training. We‘ve had some Filipino soldiers come here for training. We had ship visits to the Philippines, where your Navy showed our Navy the capabilities for littoral defense. We are engaged in negotiations between your Frontier Guard and our Coast Guard for cooperation in training. The Philippines is an archipelago, and one of the problems is that some terrorists can move quickly fr om small islands to big islands, so our Coast Guard needs training in surveillance and interdiction and some equipment. Your Frontier Guard and our Coast Guard are in discussions; a lot of discussions ongoing right now.

Q.: Is there any schedule of further visits of Russian warship to the Philippines?

A.: Yes. There has been an understanding that there should be regular visits. But such things are usually announced a few days before the visit for obvious reasons.

Q.: And what about joint military exercises?

A.: In terms of joint military exercises that are commonly understood, like troops on the ground simulating defense against an enemy, we have not reached that far. At the most, the military exercises will be what is called table-top exercises, meaning our strategists and tacticians sitting together, exchanging information on how we would react in terms of a particular situation. And this includes not only military. It also includes humanitarian [aid], rescue at sea, environmental protection, mitigation of environmental disaster for example at sea. These things will not work unless we eventually have exercises. Maybe in the future we will , but in the short term we will have what is called the table-top exercises. It sounds like they are playing games, but I‘ve participated in these and they are really serious simulations.

Q.: Some media outlets reports that the United States wanted to have an Air Force anti-terrorist operation in the Philippines. How could comment on this?

A.: What I can tell you there is that we have some of the bravest and most courageous men and women in uniform, and I know some of them personally. And to answer your question, it will be Filipino soldiers who will be doing the fighting.

Q.: Can anti-terrorist cooperation between the Philippines and the U.S. have an impact of Russian-Filipino cooperation in this sphere?

A.: It is almost unavoidable. The model of cooperation that our military has grown up on is cooperation with the United States, but they [the Philippine military] have an open mind. And that cooperation admittedly is very deep, goes back for many decades. A lot of our soldiers train in the U.S., they use U.S. equipment, doctrines. They have many relatives in America. To Filipino soldiers and Filipinos, in general, they are still discovering Russia. Some Filipinos still have weird ideas about Russia, that there are mafia chasing each other in Moscow. As we discover more about Russia, we will learn how to cooperate. But the models of cooperation that Russia has for example with Syria is something we study very, very closely. That is probably one of the most active and one of the few success stories against terrorism. So we are looking at that also. So we are keeping an open mind. But again, our Russian cooperation might not be the same as our cooperation with the U.S.

Q.: Let us move fr om military to energy cooperation between Russia and the Philippines.

A.: Well, the Philippines is energy-hungry. Growth rates in the past few years have been running at 6%. To sustain this, we‘re going on an infrastructure program which we are doing for many reasons. One reason is to be able to do industrialization, to having the structures wh ere we can start building using our own things using our own technologies and our own expertise. So we will need a lot of energy. And we don‘t produce much of our own energy. We produce I think just 5% of our energy needs. We do have a nice energy mix. For example in geothermal [energy sphere] we are No 3 in the world. Right now, for the short term, most of our energy generation systems are coal or fossil fuel-based. We import a lot of coal from Russia, a few hundred million dollars‘ worth, I think. We also import close to 1 billion dollars of crude oil and natural gas. I think that will continue. We are in discussion with Gazprom and others, for example. They would like to invest. For example, we don‘t have as many natural gas facilities as we would like. We only have one big one. We need one in Mindanao, so we can reprocess natural gas that comes from Russia and then pipe it out safely. So that is one thing. Building a natural gas port, pipelines and infrastructure, that‘s one. The other thing is atomic energy. We had a Deputy Minister come here for the International Atom Expo. They are talking about the possibility of peaceful use of nuclear energy. We have a nuclear plant completely built up, but it needs some updating. So we talked about that. We are also looking at smaller nuclear reactors for power.

Q.: And what about floating nuclear power plants which Russia is now trying to produce?

A.: We are looking at them, yes. . It could be a very good solution for a country like the Philippines. As I said, we have many islands. so we cannot have high concentration of power generation in one area and then just use transmission lines. If you use transmission lines, you have almost 20% power loss. So you have to bring the power source closer to the need. A floating power reactor is quite attractive, because we have experience in this. In the 1990-s, we brought in floating diesel barges, I think from China and Japan, and these are huge diesels generators. We put them on barges floating near wh ere they were needed. So, we have some experience in that. We are looking at that. In fact, this is in discussion and we hope to see some developments.

Q.: What are the most promising investment spheres between our countries?

Infrastructure. We‘ve been meeting a lot of infrastructure companies - bridge builders, road builders, smart-city architects and engineers. These are the areas wh ere they would like to invest. I also met a few Russians who have visited the Philippines and are interested in investing in tourism, in investing in resorts in partnership with Filipinos. One of my biggest frustrations is that Russians do not go to the Philippines, you all go to Thailand. About 1 million go Thailand, and only 30,000 to the Philippines. We have beautiful beaches, too.

A.: What should be done to promote the Philippines among Russian tourists?

Q.: We really need to promote as vigorously as Thailand. Thailand is getting a million tourists, and they are still promoting [the country] vigorously. They have festivals - they are going to have a big one, I think, next month - food festivals, they subsidize Thai restaurants, they subsidize the imports of Thai products. There are a lot of Thai products in stores here. Vietnam is the same thing also. A lot of Russians visit Vietnam. Then Indonesia, Bali, but you are missing out the Philippines.