Russian warships under scrutiny after Philippines trip

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A Philippine Navy band plays as the Russian anti-submarine ship Admiral Tributs prepares to dock during the ship's arrival at the international port in Manila on April 8, 2019. Admiral Tributs arrived in Manila along with the Vinogradov and sea tanker Irkut as part of a goodwill visit. (AFP / Ted Aljibe)
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Sailors stand on the deck of the Russian anti-submarine ship Admiral Tributs during the ship's arrival at the international port in Manila on April 8, 2019. Admiral Tributs arrived in Manila along with the Vinogradov and sea tanker Irkut as part of a goodwill visit. (AFP / Ted Aljibe)
Updated 08 April 2019

Russian warships under scrutiny after Philippines trip

  • Second visit this year a bid to strengthen ties between Manila and Moscow, experts say
  • The Russian warships' visit coincides with the joint US-Philippine military exercises

MANILA: Three Russian Pacific Fleet warships docked in Manila on Monday for a five-day goodwill visit.

The arrival of the ships, the Admiral Vinogradov, the Admiral Tributs and the Irkut, coincides with the annual US-Philippines Balikatan military exercises, raising questions over the timing of the visit.

The Philippine Navy stressed there was no “political” motive behind the Russian Navy’s move, and that it was not connected to the exercises.

Capt. Sergey G. Alantiev, commander of the Russian detachment, said the visit was to foster naval cooperation with the Philippines, replenish supplies and give shore leave to the crew.

“When we planned this visit with our Philippine counterparts, we did not discuss Balikatan. In fact, I only found out it’s going on very recently,” Alantiev said.

“Since it (Balikatan) doesn’t prevent us from carrying out this visit, and it doesn’t create any inconvenience, we decided to continue.”

The Balikatan exercises began on April 1 and will run until April 12, the day the Russian detachment is due to leave Manila.

This is the second time the Russian Navy has visited the capital this year, and Alantiev noted that port calls by Russian and Philippine vessels to each other’s waters had been taking place on a regular basis for some time.

Last year, the Philippine warship BRP Tarlac made a historic visit to the Russian port of Vladivostok on the country’s Pacific coast.

“We strongly believe that the only way to cope with present-day threats and challenges is through partnership, and by combining efforts and resources,”Alantiev added.

For the Philippine government, hosting Russian Navy warships is an important component of continuing efforts to strengthen ties between the two countries.

“This will enhance and sustain peace, stability and maritime cooperation,” said Capt. Constancio Arturo Reyes Jr. “We are looking forward to strengthening this bilateral relationship.”

The Philippines is the oldest ally of the US in the Asia-Pacific region, but since President Rodrigo Duterte’s election, his administration has pursued an independent foreign policy, veering away from its longstanding US military and economic alliance and shifting towards Russia and China.

When asked whether the visit could be counterproductive to fostering peace as a result of Russia’s frosty relations with the US, Alantiev said: “We have outstanding relations and a good rapport with the US Navy, and all efforts aimed at peace and stability in the region, be they Russian or American, serve the same purpose.”

The Philippines’ defense spokesman, Arsenio Andolong, admitted that the timing of the Russian fleet’s arrival could be interpreted in a number of misleading ways.

“I really want to keep it clear that it’s just a friendly visit. With all due respect to the Americans, Balikatan is being held in our house and we can accept guests to come here. There’s nothing wrong with that,” he told Arab News.

“If they (the Russians) were here to attack the Americans, that’s a different story, but they are here on a diplomatic port call.”

Andolong also stressed that just because the Philippines was opening its doors to Russia and China did not mean that it was turning away from its “big brother” the US, nor that Russia and China were now priorities for Duterte.

“We are now more actively engaging Russia and China in accordance with the President’s ‘friend to all, enemy to no one’ policy. Our ties with the US are still there and our two countries’ alliance is still evident in how we deal with each other. The only change is that the communication has become more honest and straightforward — we say what we want to say and they say what they want to say.

“There are many possibilities if we pursue our current foreign policy, particularly with Russia. I think it’s good — it will allow us to take stock of how the global community is growing in terms of defense. By opening our doors, we are able to develop better understanding of our friends overseas.”

Meanwhile, in a post on Twitter, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. said that the US would remain the Philippines’ sole military ally.

“The US (is) the only world power that is a bastion of democracy and human rights, (it) is and will remain our only military ally. We don’t need any other,” he tweeted on Sunday.




Protests in US put racial discrimination in Canada under scrutiny

Updated 06 June 2020

Protests in US put racial discrimination in Canada under scrutiny

  • Discrimination against Canadian blacks and Arabs ranges from higher unemployment to hate crimes
  • Trudeau’s reputation as a diversity champion was punctured last year by multiple images of him in black makeup

DUBAI: The protests across the US over the death of George Floyd while in police custody have prompted its northern neighbor with a nicer image to acknowledge discrimination within its own borders. Only time will tell, though, whether Canada’s next step will be honest self-searching and concrete action to defend its reputation — especially among Arabs and Muslims — as a fair and tolerant society.

So far, what Canada has mainly shown is that a history of moral posturing greatly diminishes a politician’s ability to provide credible leadership on the problem of anti-black racism. Otherwise, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau would not have reacted the way he did during a news conference in Ottawa when asked to comment on US President Donald Trump’s call to use military action as violence and looting eclipsed protests over Floyd’s death.

The former drama teacher paused for 21 seconds, opening his mouth a few times to speak. The pregnant pause caused many to wonder whether Trudeau was making a deliberate point with his silence, fearful of taking on Trump, or he was literally at a loss for words, perhaps recalling his own blackface scandals.

On Friday, Trudeau made a dramatic appearance at a protest in Ottawa (pictured above), where he joined the crowd in kneeling for eight minutes and 46 seconds — which is how long a Minneapolis police officer held down Floyd with his knee on his neck before he died — clapped to chants of “Black lives matter” and collected a T-shirt emblazoned with the same slogan on the front.

Such gestures are perhaps only to be expected of a white politician whose carefully crafted image as a champion of inclusivity and diversity was punctured last year by the appearance of multiple images of him in black makeup, laughing, making faces and sticking his tongue out.

The tradition of brownface and blackface — white people painting their faces darker — was common in North America until it came to be viewed by the turn of the 21st century as a racist caricature. However, systemic inequalities that plague Canada’s black and indigenous communities have proved far more resistant to change.

Last weekend in Toronto, protesters held a rally over the death of Regis Korchinski-Paquet, a black woman who fell to her death last week while police were in her apartment, an incident that is being probed by the province’s Special Investigations Unit.

People who were identified as family and friends of Regis Korchinski-Paquet (no names provided) lead protesters as they march to highlight the deaths in the U.S. of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, and of Toronto's Regis Korchinski-Paquet, who died after falling from an apartment building while police officers were present, in Toronto, Ontario, Canada May 30, 2020. (Reuters)

A CBC News investigation of fatal encounters with police found that black people made up 36.5 percent of the deaths involving Toronto police from 2000-2017, while accounting for only 8.3 percent of the city’s population.

Canada is also no stranger to prejudice against Arabs and Muslims. Most recently, some cities’ decision to suspend their noise bylaws during Ramadan to permit mosques to broadcast the sunset call to prayer sparked a backlash, drawing some racist rants on Twitter. 

In 2017, university student Alexandre Bissonnette shot and killed six Muslims in a Quebec City mosque, in what Trudeau called “a despicable act of terror.”

In 2017, university student Alexandre Bissonnette shot and killed six Muslims in a Quebec City mosque. (Facebook)
Montreal mayor Denis Coderre (L-R), Quebec City mayor Regis Labeaume, Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard and Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau pay their respects during a funeral ceremony for three of the victims of the deadly shooting at the Quebec Islamic Cultural Centre, in Montreal, Quebec on February 2, 2017. (AFP/File Photo)

That year there was a spike in hate crimes reported by police, a 10-year high of 2,073 criminal incidents, according to Statistics Canada.

While the most recent stats show a slight decrease in 2018 to 1,798 incidents, the number was still the second highest of that period.

Of those hate crimes, 44 percent were motivated by race while 36 percent were based on religion.

Then there is a less visible form of systemic discrimination, such as the issue of unemployment among Arabs, Canada’s fastest-growing immigrant population.

ISNA Canada building. (Supplied)

“A lot of people here think that Canada isn’t racist,” Faith Olanipekun, an organizer of a Canadian protest in support of Black Lives Matter, told the CBC, the national public broadcaster, this week.

“So it’s important for us to come out, voice our concerns and let people know that we are suffering in Canada just as much as people in the US are suffering.”

A report last year by the Canadian Arab Institute, a non-partisan research and policy group, showed that based on its analysis of the country’s last census in 2016, the unemployment rate among Arabs was 13.5 percent, higher than the total visible minority population at 9.2 percent.

“That’s more than double the national average, so this is based on 2016 data, very important to note, because with COVID-19 it means it’s going to get much worse,” Shireen Salti, the institute’s interim executive director, told Arab News. 

“We know there are employment barriers. We’re looking into why … Is there discrimination in the labor market, on university campuses etc.? There are some preliminary results from our research that show this, and we want to dive deeper to better understand.”



- 947,820 people in Canada reported having Arab ethnic origin.

- 90% reside in Quebec, Ontario, Alberta provinces.

- Highest numbers: Lebanese, Moroccan, Egyptian.

- Over 60% are first generation.

- Over 60% have post-secondary education.

Source: Canadian Arab Institute, based on country’s last census in 2016.

Despite being a highly educated community, she said figures show Arabs’ average annual income is about $33,000, below the national average of $47,000.

“There’s a lot of work that we still need to do to ensure the integration of Arabs in Canada,” said Salti, who was born in Palestine and moved to Canada with her family in 2009.

“There’s a lot of government support in place for newcomers and immigrants, but we need to move beyond that and better understand how to cater to various communities with various inequities.”

While standing in solidarity with black Americans, Salti said the US situation has opened up a window for Canadians to talk about all forms of discrimination.

A man walks past Vancouver's Chinese Cultural Centre, which was targeted with vandalism during the Covid-19 pandemic, prompting police to erect mobile surveillance cameras, on May 21, 2020 in Vancouver, British Columbia. (AFP)

“It’s important to take a moment to pause and listen to the important messages that are being shared right now,” she added.

“We need to be anti-racist in a society where we have multiple communities, and diverse communities, and multiculturalism is literally at the heart of what we do here in Canada.”

Pierre Trudeau, Justin’s father, who was Canada’s prime minister for more than 15 years, had the vision to make the country the first in the world to adopt an official policy of multiculturalism in 1971, later enshrined in law.

This allowed its citizens to preserve their own cultural heritage while being protected from discrimination.

In this file photo Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau arrives on Parliament Hill to attend a sitting of the Special Committee on the COVID-19 Pandemic, May 20, 2020 in Ottawa, Canada. (AFP/File Photo)

Justin has had a harder time convincing people that he walks his talk as Canada’s woke leader. He got points for introducing the first gender-balanced Cabinet in the country’s history in 2015, which was also ethnically diverse.

He offered apologies to Canada’s aboriginals for their abuse dating back more than a century, and he welcomed Syrian refugees at the airport with open arms.

Then, while running for re-election last year, two “blackface” photos and a video raised troubling questions about the character of a politician who rose to high office on a platform of social justice, gender equality and indigenous and minority rights.

At the June 2 news conference in Ottawa, Trudeau said he had "spoken many times about how deeply I regret my actions hurt many, many people," before going on to state: “There’s systemic discrimination in Canada, which means our systems treat Canadians of color, Canadians who are racialized, differently than they do others.”

Protesters march to highlight the deaths in the U.S. of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, and of Toronto's Regis Korchinski-Paquet, who died after falling from an apartment building while police officers were present, in Toronto, Ontario, Canada May 30, 2020. (Reuters)

Not everyone was impressed. Jagmeet Singh, the outspoken leader of Canada’s NDP Party, said Trudeau’s government could immediately take actions that “go beyond the pretty words of a prime minister who says that he cares.”

Trudeau’s own cabinet minister, Ahmed Hussen, a Somali Canadian, was more specific: He lamented that black Canadians were disproportionately followed in stores by shop owners fearing theft, while black drivers had every reason to be anxious when they are pulled over by a police officer.

Racism is “a lived reality for black Canadians,” Hussen said, as he urged other Canadians to “step up” and “raise your voices and ensure that real inclusion accompanies the diversity of our country.”

The mood in Canada’s black, indigenous and immigrant communities was perhaps summed up best by Salti, of the Canadian Arab Institute, thus: “Now more than ever, we hope that all our political leaders and elected officials will do more than simply pay lip service, and instead act and invest in strategies that promote an inclusive, integrated and fully respectful society for all Canadians.”