Philippines steps up military cooperation with Russia

Philippine Marines from the Special Warfare Group . (File/Reuters)
Updated 05 April 2019

Philippines steps up military cooperation with Russia

MANILA: The Philippines has stepped up its military relations with Russia as part of President Rodrigo Duterte’s “friend to all, enemy to no one” approach to foreign policy.

And Manila has also been buying in Israeli defense technology and equipment to help combat the scourge of terrorism in the country.

Defense spokesman Arsenio Andolong told Arab News on Friday that recent moves to strengthen international defense and security cooperation with non-traditional allies did not mean that the Philippines would be dumping its main long-term partner the US.

However, on Monday three Russian warships are due to dock in Manila for a four-day friendly visit in the latest round of joint military cooperation activities.

Moscow is keen to help with the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ defense modernization program, and only last week Russian ambassador to the Philippines, Igor Khovaev, warned against existing allies imposing sanctions on Manila for any future arms agreements it might reach with Russia.

Andolong stressed his country would not be turning its back on “big brother” America, but said: “Before, we didn’t even dream of talking to the Russians. Now we are engaging with them along with other nations that are not our traditional allies.

“We realized that Russia is a major strategic player in geopolitics. It will do no harm if we are on good terms with them. With the dynamics of global security, someday, somewhere down the road, we may require their (Russia’s) assistance. It’s always good to be in constant touch.” He added that the same applied to his country’s relations with China.

Noting that the Philippines already had long-standing ties with Israel, Andolong said that “for the first time, we are already actively acquiring technology and equipment from them (the Israelis) and learning best practices when it comes to countering terrorism.”

The spokesman added: “I think it’s good for our defense establishment to take stock of how the global community is growing in terms of defense. By opening (our doors), we are able to develop a better understanding of our friends overseas.”

Prior to Duterte’s presidency, the Philippines had never cooperated with Russia. “The most we ever did was exchange personnel. Now we are sending, or we have sent, troops to participate in certain events in Russia, and we are already engaging with their Ministry of Defense on a regular basis.”

In November last year, a plan mapping out joint military activities between the Philippines and Russia was finalized in Moscow. It includes high-level exchanges, port visits of navy vessels, conferences, staff and security consultations, reciprocal visits of delegations and observers for military training exercises, and education and training exchanges.

The Philippines’ warship BRP Tarlac made a historic trip to the Pacific port city of Vladivostok last year and Russian Navy vessels now make regular visits to the Philippines. The latest will be on Monday when three Russian warships are scheduled to arrive in Manila for a four-day friendly visit. Their visit coincides with the annual US-Philippines Balikatan military exercises taking place in various parts of Luzon island.

“Admittedly, it raises eyebrows on both sides,” said Andolong. “However, it’s consistent with (the president’s) ‘friends to all and enemy to no one’ policy. It’s a friendly port call, I see no issue. They’re not going to engage in any military operations.”

Russia has expressed interest in participating in the Philippine military’s modernization program, which includes a helicopter project and planned submarine acquisition.

Admiral Valdimir Korolyov, chief of the Russian Navy, visited the Philippines last month to meet defense officials, and in 2017 Duterte received a donation of assault rifles, ammunition, military trucks and steel helmets from Russia.

Last week ambassador Khovaev said Russia attached great importance to its relations with the Philippines in the field of security and defense as both countries faced common enemies, particularly terrorism.

“It’s in our national interest to help the Philippines increase their defense and security capabilities in the legitimate struggle against terrorism... We are ready to share our experience. We fully support your struggle against terrorism, against drug trafficking, piracy at sea, and so many other evils,” the envoy said.

On promoting military relations between Moscow and Manila, Khovaev said all options were open, including the supply of sophisticated arms and equipment, and the transfer of technologies to help the Philippines develop its defense industry.

Khovaev stressed that it was not in Russia’s interests to damage the Philippines’ traditional relationships with other countries. “In our view, diversification means keeping old traditional allies and partners, and getting new ones. That’s why any attempt to influence our bilateral relationships by using sanctions or any other methods and ways is, for us, absolutely unacceptable.

“Nobody has a right to teach us how we should live, how we should develop our relationship, our cooperation. That is why sanctions imposed by your traditional allies on Russia must not have any impact on Russian-Philippines cooperation,” said Khovaev.

International security expert Stephen Cutler, a former Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agent, said he did not see a problem with the growing military cooperation between the two countries.

“I don’t think that the United States ought to (impose sanctions on the Philippines), in the same way that the United States doesn’t impose sanctions on Malaysia, Indonesia, India just because they have Russian stuff. Compete with them and make a good deal,” he said.

But Cutler suggested Manila should be careful with its Russian dealings. “Don’t deal with the Russians to spite the United States. Do it because it makes sense, from your supply chain and your strategic national security goals and objectives.”

He said when dealing with any country, the Philippines should be “eyes open, mind open” and put its own interests first.

Albert Del Rosario, former Philippines secretary of foreign affairs, said: “On the supply of arms and equipment, of great significance is the element of interoperability which should be as much as possible closely factored with one’s treaty ally.”


Australian court upholds sex abuse verdict of Cardinal Pell

Australian Cardinal George Pell (C) is escorted in handcuffs from the Supreme Court of Victoria in Melbourne on August 21, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 21 August 2019

Australian court upholds sex abuse verdict of Cardinal Pell

  • Pell’s legal team had appealed his conviction on three grounds, but the three appeal judges only permitted the unreasonable verdict argument to be heard

MELBOURNE: Former Vatican treasurer Cardinal George Pell lost an appeal against his conviction for sexually abusing two 13-year-old choir boys and will remain in prison for at least another three years, an Australian court ruled on Wednesday.
Pell, the highest ranking Catholic worldwide to be convicted of child sex offenses, was sentenced in March to six years in jail after being found guilty on five charges of abusing the two boys at St. Patrick’s Cathedral while he was Archbishop of Melbourne in the late 1990s.
Supreme Court of Victoria Chief Justice Anne Ferguson said on Wednesday that two of the three judges hearing Pell’s appeal “decided that it was open to the jury to be satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that Cardinal Pell was guilty of the offenses charged” and rejected his appeal.
The jury in the trial heard testimony from a victim who described how Pell had exposed himself to the two boys, fondled their genitals and masturbated and forced one boy to perform a sex act on him. The other victim died in 2014.
“I am grateful for a legal system that everyone can believe in, where everybody is equal before the law and no one is above the law,” the surviving choir boy, now in his 30s, said in a statement read out by his lawyer, Vivian Waller of Waller Legal.
“The criminal process has been stressful. The journey has taken me to places that, in my darkest moments, I feared I could not return from,” he said in the statement.
Under the terms of his sentencing, Pell will be eligible for parole in October 2022, when he will be 81.
“Cardinal Pell is obviously disappointed with the decision today,” his spokeswoman, Katrina Lee, said in a statement, adding that he maintained his innocence.
She said his legal team was examining the judgment to determine whether to lodge a special leave application to the High Court of Australia to hear an appeal. Pell has 28 days to file the application.
There was no immediate comment from the Vatican.
Pell appealed his conviction to Victoria’s Court of Appeal on three grounds, but mainly on the argument that the jury’s verdict was unreasonable based on the evidence at the trial.
However the court ruled in a 2-1 judgment that the conviction was reasonable, with two judges saying the surviving victim was a “compelling witness, was clearly not a liar, was not a fantasist and was a witness of truth.”
“As might have been expected, there were some things which he could remember and many things which he could not. And his explanations of why that was so had the ring of truth,” said the two judges.
In contrast they said the evidence by people supporting Pell varied in quality and consistency.
They dismissed Pell’s argument that sexual abuse would have been physically impossible due to his heavy robes, saying “the robes were capable of being maneuvered in a way that might be described as being moved or pulled to one side or pulled apart.”
Outside the court in Melbourne, small groups of activists and victims of abuse cheered once they heard the verdict.
“Here we have today in our court, in Victoria, the Supreme Court, saying, ‘we believe the victim and we uphold the jury’s verdict’,” Chrissie Foster, a prominent advocate for victims who has followed the case, told reporters.
“No one is above the law,” she said.

STILL A CARDINAL
The pope has previously said he would wait for Australian civil justice to take its course before commenting on the case publicly.
Pell is still a Cardinal in the Catholic Church. Even if he resigns as a cardinal, he would still be a priest.
Before he could be dismissed from the priesthood, the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) would have to find him guilty following a separate canonical trial or abbreviated procedure, known as an “administrative process.”
The CDF has been looking into the accusations against Pell since his conviction in Australia.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the courts had done their job and the justice system must be respected. He also said he expected Pell would lose his Australian honors.
Pell was made a Companion of the Order of Australia in 2005 and awarded a Centenary Medal in 2001.
Pell’s legal team had appealed his conviction on three grounds, but the three appeal judges only permitted the unreasonable verdict argument to be heard.
The dissenting view from Justice Mark Weinberg said the victim “was inclined to embellish aspects of his account” and he said the evidence contained enough discrepancies and inadequacies to cause him to doubt Pell’s guilt. Weinberg said that in his view the convictions could not stand.
Pell’s case has attracted global attention as it brought a growing crisis of sexual abuse in the Catholic church spanning scandals in the United States, Chile and Germany right to the heart of the papal administration.
The Australian judges said Pell should not be made a “scapegoat for any perceived failings of the Catholic church nor for any failure in relation to child sexual abuse by other clergy.” They said his conviction and sentence was not vindication of the trauma suffered by other victims of abuse.
The Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, the Catholic church’s top body in Australia, said it accepted the court’s decision and acknowledged the pain that those abused by clergy have experienced through Pell’s trials and appeal.