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.”


On 16th birthday, California student opens fire at his high school, killing two

Updated 11 min 35 sec ago

On 16th birthday, California student opens fire at his high school, killing two

SANTA CLARITA, California: A Southern California high school student pulled a .45 caliber semiautomatic handgun from his backpack and fired on fellow classmates on Thursday morning, killing two and wounding three others.
He saved the last bullet for himself. It was his 16th birthday.
The teenaged gunman, whose name was not provided by police, survived the self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head but was in grave condition in hospital, law enforcement officials said.
Captain Kent Wegener of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department told reporters the entire incident, captured on videotape, took 16 seconds as the young man stood in one spot and fired on one student after another.
“From right where he was standing, he doesn’t chase anybody, he fires from where he is until he shoots himself,” Wegener said.
The scene at Saugus High School was reminiscent of other mass shootings at US schools, including Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, where a former student with an assault gun killed 17 people on Feb. 14, 2018.
Wegener confirmed the suspect posted a message on his Instagram account before the shooting that said: “Saugus have fun at school tomorrow.” The post was later taken down.
The two slain students were a 16-year-old girl and a 14-year-old boy. Two other girls, aged 14 and 15, were wounded, as was a 14-year old boy, Wegener said.

Students are evacuated from Saugus High School onto a school bus after a shooting at the school left two students dead and three wounded on Nove. 14, 2019 in Santa Clarita, California. (Mario Tama/Getty Images/AFP)


Motive unknown
Investigators said they did not yet know what led the student to open fire at the school 40 miles (65 km) north of Los Angeles.
Police said the accused shooter had acted alone. Investigators descended on his family home, blocking off the street. They found no further danger there.
A next-door neighbor, registered nurse Jared Axen, said the suspect had seemed introverted, quiet and sad, possibly despondent over the loss of his father from a heart attack in December 2017.
Axen, 33, said it was the boy who found his father deceased, not long after the older man had regained his sobriety and gotten his life “back on track” after years of struggling with alcohol abuse.
“I would say he (the boy) was hurting and couldn’t ask for help,” Axen said of the suspect, who was a track athlete at the school, involved in Boy Scouts and liked the outdoors, going on hunting trips with his father.
He was of mixed race, born to Japanese-born mother and white father, with an older sister who became a nurse and moved away.
“I would ask him how school was ... he would never bring up concerns of bullying or being a loaner there,” Axen said.
There was no immediate word on where the teen gunman obtained the weapon.
“How do we come out of tragedy? We need to say ‘No more!’ This is a tragic event. It happens too frequently,” said Captain Robert Lewis of Santa Clarita Valley sheriff’s station, striking an emotional note in an otherwise somber news conference.


Latest school shooting
A 16-year-old Saugus High School junior named Pamela, who spoke to Reuters on condition that she not give her last name, said she was in her first-period choir class when some girls ran into the room and said there was a shooting going on.
“Our teacher immediately grabbed a fire extinguisher and got us into her office and locked the door,” Pamela said, adding that one of the girls had been shot in the shoulder.
Taylor Hardges reported seeing people running in the hallways shouting “Run!” She raced into a classroom, where a teacher barricaded the room.
“We’ve had drills. It doesn’t prepare you for the real thing,” she said after reuniting with her father at a designated spot in Santa Clarita’s Central Park.
Her father, Terrence Hardges, said he felt his heart race after Taylor texted him from inside the classroom with the message: “I love you. I’m pinned in a room. We’re locked in.”
The shooting at Saugus was the 85th incidence of gunfire at a school this year, according to Everytown, a gun control advocacy group. It seems sure to reignite a debate over gun control in the 2020 presidential election.
This year marks the 20th anniversary of the shooting at Columbine High School, where two teenagers went on a rampage, fatally shooting 12 students and a teacher and wounding more than 20 others before killing themselves.