MANILA, Philippines — The Philippine president left for Moscow on Tuesday to meet his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, and press efforts to broaden relations while maintaining robust ties with treaty ally the United States.
President Rodrigo Duterte left Manila with his defense, finance and economic secretaries and other key Cabinet officials for the Oct. 1-5 visit to Russia. His first trip in May 2017 was cut short due to a major attack by Islamic State group-linked militants in the southern Philippines.
After taking office in mid-2016, Duterte took steps to mend relations with China which were damaged by territorial conflicts and reach out to Putin, whom he has described as his “idol,” while often criticizing U.S. security policies.
"While it is true that we value our long-standing partners, we must also be open to engage new ones," Duterte said in a departure speech. "For the longest time, we have placed key nations at the margins of our foreign policy, failing to fully explore the potentials of mutually beneficial cooperation."
The row over the disputed waters — a major global shipping route thought to be rich in oil and gas reserves — has for years marred China's relationship with the Philippines and other neighboring countries with rival territorial claim
Duterte is to meet Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev in Moscow and hold talks with Putin in Sochi city on expanding cooperation in security and defense and combatting terrorism, extremism and cross-border crimes.
A labor agreement that would allow more Filipinos to work in Russia was not finalized ahead of Duterte's trip, officials said.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said Russian officials are expected to offer a range of defense equipment, including assault and transport helicopters, warships, drones and tanks which the Philippines could acquire as it modernizes its military, one of Asia's most ill-equipped.
In addition to Putin, the 74-year-old Duterte has publicly cozied up with Chinese President Xi Jinping.
Duterte once said that if China and Russia were to establish a new world order, he would be the first to join them and abandon the U.N., which he described as U.S.-dominated and unsuccessful in preventing wars.
Duterte, known for his brash rhetoric, said his foreign policy "is based on respect for sovereignty and non-interference, the time-honored principles of international law."
"Apparently this most basic principle of a rule that governs the relations between nations has been forgotten by some idiots in some parts of the world," he said.
Duterte has denounced 18 countries which backed an Iceland-initiated resolution in July that asked the U.N. Commissioner for Human Rights to look into human rights conditions in the Philippines amid his bloody crackdown on illegal drugs that has left thousands of mostly petty drug suspects dead.