Interview with Philippine Ambassador to the Russian Federation Carlos D. Sorreta

Sure, you know geopolitics and history have kept our two countries apart. So we have been — I think we are — our President has decided to make up for lost time, for lost opportunities. At ang nais natin pareho na luma — maging mas malapit o mas malalim ang ating relasyon.

Since the President first met President Putin in Peru at the sidelines of APEC in November 2016, we have in that short time concluded 29 agreements which constitutes a very solid legal framework for our cooperation to move forward.

At ‘yung basehan na ‘yun, may — mga agreement na ito may mga objectives, may mga mechanisms para sa ating mga ahensya na mag-usap-usap para maisulong ang ating relasyon.

So nandoon tayo ngayon after many years of losing and missing many opportunities. So medyo humahabol.

The visit in May in 2017 was not entirely a loss kasi sa kagandahang loob ni — sinabi sa akin ni Presidente na uuwi nga siya at kung pwedeng tawagan — kausapin lang niya si Mr. Putin, President Putin para magpaumanhin at sabi ko’y give me the chance baka pwede pang matuloy ‘yung bilateral meeting.

So to our pleasant surprise, after a few negotiations with the Russians, we — the meeting with the President and President Putin was moved forward to just before the President was going to board the plane.

So they met in the Kremlin. It was just supposed to be for a few minutes but it last — it went way past midnight. Madami hong napag-usapan nila doon. And then in spite of it being cut short, we signed 10 agreements at that time. So natuloy pa rin ‘yun. So may mga bagay lang na hindi natuloy.

In this visit, medyo I think it’s a little different because the President is not only meeting with President Putin but he’s also the guest of President Putin sa Valdai Forum ho na magbigay ng kanyang views tungkol sa mundo, from the point of view of a Philippine president, essentially from the point of view of the east.

So isang magandang opurtunidad ‘yun. Ang isa pang bago na first time rin ay si Presidente gusto niyang i-share ang ating kultura. So the — for the first time in — I think in all his visits if I’m not mistaken, we will have a cultural gala here in Russia. We will feature the Madrigal Singers and the Bayanihan Dance Group. And this is for — to share our culture, our dance and music with the Russian people. So that’s something new for 20 — for this year’s visit.

In — there’s quite a bit that they have to — that they would like to discuss based on our initial meetings. There’s a lot on the economics sphere. I can’t preempt the specifics. There’s also a lot in the political cooperation, on defense and security cooperation. And then there’s specific discussions possibly on health and culture and education.

So actually it’s a big agenda but they are very good leaders. They know what they will focus on. And I am very much looking forward to hearing that discussion.

But I’m not sure if he’s going to say it in those things. On the record, this has been his view of dealing with the world. One of — especially one of non-interference in the domestic affairs of a sovereign state. The eastern — our view is to respect sovereign — the sovereignty of states, their territorial integrity and their independence. This is one where we hesitate to interfere in the internal affairs of states.

I think first of all the Philippines is a very, very great position to speak about the eastern perspective in world order because we have very deep ties with — for example, the west. Our traditions, our values are heavily dependent on western education.

But then we are located in the east. Our neighbors are all east and I think the President will have a very good perspective to share from that very unique point of view.

For the past few years, dumami po ang pumupuntang Russia at nagtatrabaho. Ito ay nangangailangan… Dahil walang agreement, kokonti lang ang may legal visa para specific doon sa trabaho nila na caretaker or household service worker. ‘Yan po’y maso-solve hopefully with the bilateral labor agreement na tinatrabaho na namin.

At ang — I hope and I believe the President will raise it with President Putin at doon he will — dahil mahalaga ho ang overseas Filipinos kay Presidente. I cannot imagine him not raising it and putting his advocacy behind it. At ‘pag nangyari ‘yun malaking tulong ho sa efforts namin on the ground to work out the details.

Alam mo ‘yung mga agreement na ‘to hindi nahuhulog sa langit na buo na eh. Tinatrabaho ‘yan bawat comma, period at salita. So we — it… On the President — I mean hopefully the President and I think he will raise it, malaking tulong ho ‘yun sa aming trabaho para maisulong ang isang bilateral labor agreement.

‘Pag napirmahan ‘yan, maaring magkaroon na ng legal status ‘yung mga gustong mag-trabaho dito. Iba pang usapin ‘yung legalization o amnesty nung nandito na. Pero ‘yung isusulong din namin ‘yun.

 Isang napaka-importanteng issue ho sa atin that relates to our economy and the welfare of our people, eh ‘yung energy po. Russia is a major player in almost all forms of energy. At ito po ay isang usapin na pag-uusapan sa under — with my understanding. Kailangan — ang energy cost po natin mataas. There is also uncertainty in the world. Sometimes may mga events sa ibang lugar kung saan tayo nag — traditionally nagso-source ng ating mga energy needs. So kailangan palawakin natin ang ating mga sources ng energy at saka in — with the prices in cost that benefit our people.

So Russia, I understand will be — that’s one of the topics that could be discussed.

Our primary objective is market access. Russia is a very — malaki hong market ang Russia, 145 million people. Tapos ‘pag sinali niyo ‘yung mga bansa na kasakop nila na meron silang economic or trade relations, umaabot yata ng mga 180 million. Malaki ho ‘yan. Tapos malaki ang demand nila.

Ang Russian taste are evolving. They’re willing to try things that are new. So we have, I believe, a good market here for agricultural products. ‘Yun ho actually ‘yung understanding ni President Putin tsaka ni President Duterte nung nag-meet sila sa Peru, na merong magandang balitang i-a-announce doon sa business meeting, mga kontrata na pipirmahan na which will lead to jobs sa Pilipinas, which will create more jobs in agricultural and fishing sector, in manufacturing sector.

Like I said, there will be agreements that will create demand for our products which means more workers will be employed by the corporations. Farmers will get higher value for their products. Manufacturers will be creating more jobs and more importantly, the Philippines will be identified as a major player in the agricultural market here, on the food market here — food and drink.

So we’re working very aggressively. The problem ho talaga is Russians have a very little knowledge of the Philippines. What little knowledge they have are stereotypical of the Philippines. So dahil nga we’re identified more with another country where they have problems. So they identify us with that country.

So I’m — what I’ve been… In my all — in my years, I’ve been telling the Russians we’re friends. We’re not gonna get in between your problems with other countries. We’re not taking sides. We just want to do business with you. We want to bring our peoples closer together and learn more from each other.

You know, when you want to promote your products, you have to promote the whole country. You just can’t promote our fruits or our dried, our other manu — like our coffee without telling the story of the Philippines, of the Filipino people, of our sustainable farming of our long tradition of using healthy and organic inputs in our agriculture and you have to tell the story of a warm and friendly people, of beautiful places for tourists to visit, of a great culture, a great art, and music.

So you promote all these. So we have events where we bring all these together. For example, we recently had a street fair where we brought all these element. Pati Arnis ho eh pino-promote namin dito, ‘yung hilot, ‘yung ating Philippine massage pino-promote.

So we promoted Philippine food, Philippine art culture. We had a mini fashion show which highlighted the fabric made from natural fibers. So there’s a great story to tell. We cannot just sell the product by itself. We have to sell the whole country, our people, our places, our history. We have to sell it.

So create that better knowledge and understanding of the Philippines. We also have events here. For example, we had food tastings and food preparation and demonstration and cooking demonstrations.

We had an event where we featured our coffee, tea, and chocolate. It’s a tasting reception. And later, I think next month, we will have a liquor, beer, tasting reception.

The liquor market here is I think everybody knows is, very, very large. But it’s very competitive. And ang tingin — ang tingin ko ‘pag nakapasok tayo… Bilib ako sa produkto natin. Sa ating mga liquor, alcohol, and beer. And I think they can compete. We just really need to connect the people to the product. Connect the Russian people to our country. So that’s…

It’s not easy because it’s very strategic. So promote the product, promote the tourist — the destinations. But then at the same time, you promote the culture, the art, cuisine.

We have a — we had a slight — we’ve been having slight increases over the years in tourism arrival from Russia. Russians travel a lot. I am — I’m amazed with their desire to travel. And they travel a lot to Southeast Asia. Almost two million go to Southeast Asia. The bulk goes to Thailand, about 1.4 million. We get about 30 — 35,000.

So we need to exert more effort. There’s no doubt that Russians travel. They just need to know more about the Philippines and they travel to Southeast Asia. So we need just to you know. 

First of all, after he gets his degree I hope I’m the first one to greet him “Dr. Duterte.” But it’s a degree that’s given to heads of states and leaders. The MGIMO is the top — it’s the top university in the broadest sense of a liberal arts university. But it’s also the top university for training Russians for foreign affairs, for foreign business, for international business transactions.

So it’s something we’re looking forward to. And actually more importantly we — he will be speaking to the studentry and the faculty and special guests when he’s been conferred the honors. And he will be taking questions. So it should be interesting.

Nakakatuwa ‘yung kanilang response sa amin when we’re now doing the — we have to go through a process of registration. They are all very eager to see the President.

Doon po sa mga — malakas ho, malakas. I have not heard from the community here. They’re very supportive of the President’s programs. They are… They believe that…

Actually, they’re very supportive of our efforts which of course… We are in support of the President’s program. So we get a lot of volunteers. For example, we have a cultural group — Philippine Embassy cultural group and a chorale group. They’re all very supportive of government. So…

I have not — even in our — we have kapihans regularly which is like town hall meetings and the expressions are one of support for the President.

Last time we — every time I meet with the agency here that deals with the foreigners, the numbers keep on growing. When I ask — I’m almost afraid to ask how many because the last time we talked their rough estimate was about 10,000 throughout Russia.

Now, of those 10,000, about 90, 95 percent are women engaged in work as nannies, household workers, household service workers. And the sad thing nga ho is very few, very, very few because there are only about a hundred legal visas available for nannies and household service workers.

So the rest do not have this visa to work here. But they work here. They are doing very well. We have not had a case of an employer physically hurting their Filipino employee. We have had one sexual assault case and we’re pursuing that of course.

But generally, wala ho dito ‘yung pinaplantsa o binubuhusan ng mainit na tubig. Wala pa kaming… Meron ho ‘yung Filipino na nanakit ng Filipino. So we try to settle that.

But the employer being abusive has… We have very, very few. But in terms of the embassy assisting… Kasi nga ho madaming walang visa so many decide to go home. So we assist them to exit kasi walang visa.

Medyo — it’s a violation of Russian law. You’re here undocumented. I don’t want to say illegal. So we have to go through a process para hindi sila ma-detain. Para makaalis. So we help them. We do that for them.

We also provide the funds for their repatriation. We provide shelter here to wait for their repatriation or may — in some cases naman may sakit so tinutulungan din namin medically.

So last — last few weeks we had 17 repatriations. A few of those were medical. There was — well, don’t want to talk about the specifics pero may health issues. Kaya gusto nang umuwi. So madami na rin repatriation cases.

So there are visa quotas for Filipinos in the areas of pipefitter, carpentry, gas worker, car — welder. So meron ho ‘yun. In fact, it’s a few hundred. And they are being legally deployed. They are POEA registered. Their employers are — their agencies and their employers are POEA registered so meron ‘yun. So you…

Pero dahil sa Russia madami — meron din unemployment ‘tsaka ‘yung trabaho ng nanny at saka household service worker, kayang gawin ng Russian. Meron mga Russians na available and willing to do the work. So medyo hindi mabuksan ‘yung — madagdagan ‘yung criteria ng visa para doon sa mga household service workers or nannies.

Pero tinatrabaho namin ‘yun habang — kahit wala pang bilateral labor agreement. Tinatrabaho namin na baka pwedeng lakihan or ‘pag nahuli, huwag na muna — huwag na lang ikulong. I-turnover sa amin. Iga-guarantee namin na we will ask for that we take custody para hindi makulong kung mahuli, at ipo-process.

But the — pinakaimportante ‘yung bilateral labor agreement. Ang problema lang kasi wala pang… Lahat noong — halos may 16 bilateral labor agreements ang Russia. Kaya lang ito ay with countries na meron na silang tradition ng mga nagtatrabaho dito kahit noong panahon pa noong Soviet times.

So tayo, wala pa tayong — we don’t have that same tradition of working here. Very recent lang ‘yung ano. Tapos dumadami. So baka pwede ring gamitin ‘yung programa manawagan sa ating mga kapwa Pilipino, lalo na ‘yung nandito, huwag mag-recruit. Huwag mag-illegally recruit.

Kasi madaming cases ho ‘yung nandito na na Pilipino, sila ang nagdadala. Minsan kamag-anak, kapitbahay, kabayan. Kung may — pwede sana kasi hindi makakatulong ‘yan sa efforts namin na mag-negotiate ng bilateral labor agreement.

Kailangan kasi natin patunayan sa Russian government na marunong tayo sumunod sa kanilang batas at mas tataas ‘yung trust and understanding para basis para mag-negotiate.

At parang ano eh, habang nagne-negotiate ka, tuloy pa rin ‘yung pasok ng illegal workers. Parang hindi nakakatulong ‘yun sa negosasyon. So kung pwede, sana ‘yung mga nandito na o ‘yung mga illegal recruiter sa Pilipinas, sa Hong Kong, sa Middle East, huwag muna ho mag-recruit para ho mabigyan kami ng oportunidad na maayos ang status nila dito.

We have… And we are working with the Russian government to quietly build cases against them.

Also, we report every single instance of illegal recruitment or human trafficking sa home office sa Manila. And we document it. We do case buildup, enough information and documentation, kahit screenshot ng mga conversation nila o kontrata para magkaroon ng basehan na mag-file ng case ang fiscal o ang NBI.

Proof of that is we are very open. Anyone can walk in at anytime. May nag — may nag-pm sa’kin hating gabi, naghihingi ng tulong. Pupuntahan namin, kukunin namin. Meron na may sakit. Dadalhin namin sa hospital.

We do all that. Patitirahin namin dito. We don’t turn away anyone. It’s just that the problems are many. It’s — merong health, merong nabubuntisan, meron may utang. Tapos nag-aaway ang mga Pilipino.

But it’s always worth it eh. Kasi in the end, sometimes they send us video messages kung nakauwi na sila. Niyayakap nila ‘yung mga anak nila at tuwang-tuwa sila. So they send us… Nakakataba  ng puso ‘yun. And…

Pero malulungkot din. For example, we repatriated a mother and child na stage four cancer. Just last month, namatay na siya. But he was — she was reunited with her other children at nagpasalamat siya na naabutan pa niya — siya buhay.

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 Source: PCOO-PND (Presidential News Desk)