Interview

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

AMBASSADOR SORRETA: Welcome everyone to the Philippine Embassy and what promises to be a exciting few days full of worthwhile activities for our President and his delegation. Always happy to meet with the press.

Q: Sir, what can we expect po from the bilateral meeting between President Duterte and President Putin?

AMBASSADOR SORRETA: We’ve been discussing the agenda with the Russians for sometime now and it’s — on our part, siyempre tutulakin na ‘yung agenda natin ‘no. On our part — you know the President is visiting a country that could hold the promise of a cooperation that could lead to more jobs for our fisher folk and our agricultural sector and manufacturing sector. With that means essentially market access and it’s also a country that holds the promise of lower energy cost and more stable energy cost for the Philippines.

So those are two and then we’re also very interested in exchanging technologies on a wide level, from medical to mining, manufacturing, and of course energy. And one very important thing the President hopes to discuss in a meaningful way is the situation of Filipinos in Russia.

So that’s — the Russians could speak on their part of the agenda but for us it’s job creation back home, it’s energy stability, it’s legal status for Filipinos here.

Q: Sir, how are Filipinos in Russia po? Majority, ano po ‘yung mga line of jobs nila?

AMBASSADOR SORRETA: Filipinos here in Russia are largely in the household sector. Mostly childcare and household service and in terms of number we have about, latest count is about 10,000. And most of them are not properly documented yet. So we’re working to get there.

Because Russia is not traditionally been a labor destination country for the Philippines. It’s fairly recent that that has happened. And there’s also the issue of — there are actually many Russians who are able and willing to take the job that Filipinos have. However, their employers choose Filipinos and so we’re at that part where we are trying now to catch up and seek legal status to the negotiation of a bilateral labor agreement.

Q: Ambassador, how many ‘yung mga undocumented Filipinos dito?

AMBASSADOR SORRETA: It’s the vast majority ho. Vast, vast.

Q: Majority of the 10,000 sir?

AMBASSADOR SORRETA: Yes, because there are very few visas for those jobs legally allocated because it’s — this country that has — for those level of skills of job, they have quotas.

For Philippines, for nannies and household service workers, it’s a very small. But there are quotas that are rather big for example for semi-skilled and skilled workers, pipefitters, welders, carpenters, engineers, particularly in the oil industry.

So there’s a — on the POEA website, there’s a list of jobs available in Russia legally recruited for these kinds of jobs. They’re mostly in the oil fields in the northeast and eastern part of Russia.

Q: Ambassador, ‘yan ‘yung possible na talagang i-brought up ni PRRD kay President…

AMBASSADOR SORRETA: I hope — yes, I think so. He — alam niyo ho ‘yung Presidente natin na mahal na mahal niya ang mga kababayan natin na nagtatrabaho sa ibang bansa. So ang tingin ko, I’m almost sure 100 percent he will raise it and he will — we have prepared the groundwork so that hopefully President Putin also has been briefed and sana’y magkaroon sila ng konting understanding para masulong ‘yung negosasyon sa bilateral labor agreement.

Tulad nga ng sabi ko, hindi kasi tayo — may mga bilateral labor agreement ang Russia sa ibang bansa pero mostly with the former Soviet Union. So meron silang history. Hanggang dumating si Presidente — I mean hanggang nanalo si Presidente, ‘yung history natin sa Russia medyo payat eh. In fact, we did not have any le — number of agreements. I mean the legal framework for us to — a steady — a sturdy legal framework for us to cooperate did not exist.

But since the President came with negotiated and concluded over two dozen agreements that create a legal framework. So medyo catching up din sa — in terms of the normative rules that govern our relations with Russia. Medyo naghahabulan.

So hopefully ‘yung bilateral labor agreement, mapabili — dahil sa usapan ng ating mga Presidente ay ito’y mapabilis nang konti, mapa — ‘yung ating mga posisyon na gustong gawin ay sana mas madalian tayo sa pag-negotiate.

Q: So sir there’s a huge potential in that cooperation sir?

AMBASSADOR SORRETA: There’s a huge potential for cooperation in labor because the — ang Russia ho ay — lalo na sa mga areas na hindi pinupuntahan ang Russia, madami hong — may mga trabaho po sa oil industry, sa mining, sa construction. Eh ang Pilipino ho eh, ke sand o snow papasok eh. So sa trabaho… And they’re very much in demand because of their work ethic and they’re really hardworking. So meron — meron demand.

Pero doon — pero ang supply natin is mostly sa childcare and household workers. ‘Yun po ang walang — may demand pero wala pang legal framework. So ‘yun ang…

Q: Ambassador, doon sa status ng mga — majority ng mga Filipino workers natin mostly, undocumented. Would it be prone sila sa mga pang-aabuso ng mga employers nila?

AMBASSADOR SORRETA: You know, surprisingly we have had no case in the four years I’ve been here.

In terms of physical abuses of our workers, wala — wala pa ho except one sexual abuse case by an employer. So generally wala hong kaso dito ‘yung pinaplantsa o binubuhusan ng tubig o kinukulong or… Wala ho. They’ve been employed quite well. And ang kaso ng nasasaktan sadly it’s usually nag-aaway-away ‘yung mga Pilipino. So nagkakasakitan minsan. So…

Q: So among themselves?

AMBASSADOR SORRETA: Yes, yes. But we try to ano — we try to help them out to reconcile. Para kaming ano barangay.

Q: Sir, what are the chances of having that agreement in labor?

AMBASSADOR SORRETA: I’d like to think we have a very good chance pero that doesn’t mean we’re not going to work hard to get at it. It’s — kasi nga hindi tayo traditional na pinagkukunan ng… Hindi rin tayo nagsasalita ng Russian. Hindi tayo naka… Ang exposure natin sa Russia medyo konti. So it might be a challenge. We’re hoping walang mga… Well, I can’t really discuss the provisions. Pero it’s — we’re hoping na maisama natin ‘yung amnesty para doon sa nandito na.

Usually kasi ang labor agreement is prospective eh. ‘Yung papasok pa lang after the agreement. So ‘yun ang isang pinakamalaking challenge. Kasi gusto ko na ‘yung nandito magkaroon ng oportunidad na ma-legalize sila at generally naman kasi mapag — we follow. Ang ating mga Filipino dito very law-abiding. They follow authority. Masipag. Hindi sila nanggugulo. So I think those are factors na makakatulong.

Ang problema lang ho namin ngayon ay tuloy pa rin ‘yung illegal recruitment which is — can be a problem when you’re negotiating a labor agreement. Ironically, minsan mga kapwa Pilipino ‘yung — ‘yung nandito na ang nagre-recruit. Tuturuan kumuha ng tourist visa tapos sisingilin nang malaki tapos darating dito tapos maghahanap ng trabaho. So…

Actually ‘yun ang — so nag-a-appeal kami palagi na kung gusto na natin ng labor agreement, kailangan itigil ‘yung illegal… Kailangan pakita natin sa Russian government na marunong tayo sumunod sa batas. Respetuhin natin ang mga proseso. Dahil habang wala — habang hindi nangyayari ‘yan, ang hirap po mag-negotiate ng isang agreement dahil tuloy-tuloy ‘yung…

At ‘pag lumalaki lalo ‘yung mga illegally recruited. Ang chances na magkaroon ng amnesty, lumiliit. Kasi naging masyadong malaki ‘yung base na kailangan nilang bigyan ng amnesty.

Q: So it’s a challenge for you Ambassador?

AMBASSADOR SORRETA: Oh, that’s — it is a challenge.

Q: A big challenge?

AMBASSADOR SORRETA: A big challenge. Pero I think it’s worth it kasi they’re  — most of them are happy with their employment here. The pay is quite — they’re happy with the pay also and with their employers. But that maybe true but I still would like to ask our Filipinos not to come here yet until we — for the household worker, for the childcare and household service sectors na huwag munang pumunta hanggang magkaroon tayo ng bilateral labor agreement.

Dito kasi it feels like — the way it feels like in the 80s, in the Middle East or in Singapore na paumpisa pa lang ‘yung mga dumarating na workers pero walang legal agreement. So humahabol. In the meantime, nagkaroon ng madaming problema pero dito hindi naman malaki ‘yung problema. Ang problema lang ‘pag nahuli sila kung fake ‘yung visa.

In fact, meron kami ngayon sa shelter namin nahulian na fake ang visa. Nakulong siya. Pumunta kami sa judge sabi namin ibigay niyo muna sa amin ‘yung custody habang nili-litigate ‘yung case. So meron kami sa shelter.

‘Yun na ho ang nangyayari, ‘pag nahuli ide-deport. Para ‘pag fake ‘yung visa o papeles, may kaso. So ‘yun din ho. Sana huwag magfe-fake. Eh sa magaling ang Pilipino…

Q:  Sa Recto.

AMBASSADOR SORRETA: Sa Recto. Medyo… Pati ‘yung Russian na… So huwag ho. Huwag na huwag ho. Huwag mag-illegal recruit. Huwag mag-fake ng dokumento ng Russia. Huwag muna natin — huwag natin hong i-violate ang laws ng Russia para mapagbigyan kami na magne-negotiate. We will not lose face on — when we negotiate dahil mas mawawala ‘yung leverage namin na ilagay sa agreement na ‘yan ‘yung gusto natin kung — ‘yun na nga kung tuloy-tuloy ‘yung illegal recruitment, ‘yung pagfe-fake ng mga document.

Q: Sir, ito pong agreement will just cover the household workers or…

AMBASSADOR SORRETA: It’s… You know, that’s — ang focus ho… Kasi the problem is household and childcare workers but strategically, it should address our future manpower potentials. So without going into detail of our negotiations, that’s a good question. And as — yes, we will try to get as much as we can beyond that group. Kasi nga ‘yung — may mga nagsasabi nurses or healthcare workers, teachers. It’s something we hope to discuss with the Russians.

‘Yung teachers ho sa Kazakhtsan, madaming dumadating. Sakop ko rin ang Kazakhstan. That’s the Kazakhstan flag and dumadami ‘yung teachers. So we’re also looking at a labor agreement. Kazakhstan.

Q: Sir, was this ano supposed to be discussed during the President’s first visit here in 2017?

AMBASSADOR SORRETA: They discussed it.

Q: Ah they discussed it?

AMBASSADOR SORRETA: Yes, they met. Even though the visit itself was cut short, the President told me to try to convince the Russians to meet with him earlier before he leaves. Kasi ‘yung scheduled meeting with President Putin was still a day or two away, eh aalis na siya. So we — the Russians were nice enough pumayag naman na — si President Putin flew in from one meeting and they met around midnight in the Kremlin. Napag-usapan ‘yun. In fact that’s why we’ve already started some discussions.

Q: Sir, on ano naman — on defense and security. Meron bang mga inaasahan na pipirmahan din sa bilats between…?

AMBASSADOR SORRETA: Well, I’m going to have to defer to — nandito na si Defense Secretary. He will have to talk about that. But we’ve always been… You know, the Philippines should procure its — the weapons that it wants, whether it’s Russia, US or… It should procure the weapons that we need for our men and women on the ground, in uniform.

So based on that, Russia has a wide variety of equipment that could be useful to us for internal defense and external defense. They’re willing to negotiate and I speak from a point of view, having had experience in arms transfers with other countries. I have been involved in these things.

And Russia has a — almost everything any country needs to defend itself actually. And they’re willing to discuss favorable terms. For some countries, they have allowed — they have agreed to take local currency. So there’s no problem in foreign currencies. They have agreed to transfer technologies. That’s why many countries where Russia has been a major factor in arms transfer, has been able to come up and build their own arms industry like India, China, Vietnam.

A lot of Russian-designed equipment being produced around the world. So their model of arms transfer is very different from… So you can — they will… If you buy equipment, like transport equipment, they will invest in building the — partner with Filipinos for the maintenance and the parts.

In other countries, you buy equipment. We — every time we need the parts, we have to beg for it and then the prices are capped. So these are things that we look at when we look at arms transfers. And the most important thing is for Russia they trust us.

For example, they sell us weapons, they trust that we will use it properly in accordance with the — well, international law, maritime law, and our own laws. In other countries, they will sell you or transfer the equipment but with conditionalities — usually political conditionalities.

So ‘yung armas na bibilhin walang conditionality ‘yun, walang human right, walang… They… Sa ibang bansa…

Q: May ganun sir?

AMBASSADOR SORRETA: Meron ho. Minsan binili mo na, hindi ide-deliver dahil hindi sila sang-ayon sa mga polisiya natin.

Q:  Pero kay President Putin?

AMBASSADOR SORRETA: Ah, wala. They trust that ‘yung — as sovereign states kasi your assumed to be — to have the sole discretion on how you want to run your country. And one rule of international, one country should not interfere in the affairs of another country or tell that country what to do.

‘Cause usually when one country tells our country what to do, merong ulterior motive ‘yung…

You know, you can’t blame states. States will always seek to maximize their interests so they will try to do that and… So the bottom line is our soldiers, our police should have the equipment to win the battle. They should not — they should have the equipment that will save lives, that will end the war, end the conflict.

Right now kasi nga ang — if you will read the analysis of our internal arms struggles medyo stalemate, may parity in terms of weapons. Lamang tayo in terms of number of soldiers but when you’re fighting out an asymmetrical conflict, medyo may numerical advantage ‘yung nagtatago sa gubat.

What we need is equipment that controls the skies, that tracks their cellphones, that can detect them in the deep jungle at night. So ‘yun ‘yung mga equipment na kailangan natin na minsan mahirap bilihin sa ibang bansa.

Q: Ambassador, about agreements. As we speak, how many agreements ‘yung posibleng mapirmahan?

AMBASSADOR SORRETA: ‘Yung — in terms of areas I can talk about. It’s — there’s — one important area is political consultation, meaning ide-deepen ‘yung pag-uusap ng foreign ministry tsaka ng Department of Foreign Affairs. ‘Yung isa is on health, ‘yung isa on research, scientific research. There’s one on culture.

Tapos ‘yung sa defense, kay Sec. Del ‘yun. Siya ang tatanungin. Hopefully… Actually, ‘yung meeting ni Presidente tsaka ni President Putin. We want to spend as much time as possible them talking.

So we almost will minimize the ceremony, because sometimes the ceremony takes time. But for me ‘no, I think they should be talking more because they very [rarely?] talk. I mean our presidents should spend the time… Eh medyo gipit ‘yung oras sa Sochi. Madami rin bisita si President Putin tapos may Valdai Forum. Sa isang araw, kailangan gawin lahat ‘yun. May lunch sila.

So I’m hoping we can shorten the — we can just exchange the signed documents somewhere or somehow. For me personally, maybe I’m — maybe different. When presidents meet, they should spend as much time trying to understand each other and trying to convince each other of what’s mutually beneficial.

Kung kunwari isang oras ‘yung devoted doon na pwedeng gamitin dahil nga gipit eh. One hour for Philippines. They should speak and talk and… Minsan ‘yung signing ceremony. ‘Yung isang pirmahan kasi ano ‘yun eh, iba-ibang… May English, may Russian tapos may tinatawag na alternat. Alam niyo ‘yung alternat? ‘Yung English version, dalawa na ‘yun. ‘Yung isa una Pilipinas, “agreement between the Philippines and Russia.” So lahat ng language, una…

‘Yun naman Russia and Philippines, para walang lamangan. So apat ang dokumentong pipirmahan sa bawat agreement. Dalawang lenggwahe tapos ‘yung tinatawag na alternat copy. So medyo…

Dapat nag-uusap ang presiden — mga presidente. So we might — importante ‘yung symbol ng pag… Kasi ‘yung agreement, that’s the culmination of an understanding eh ‘pag naisulat na ‘yung detalye. Pero ‘yung — para makarating doon, ‘yun ‘yung mahirap na parte eh. ‘Yung pirmahan madali eh.

But there seems to be an inordinate focus on when is the signing of the agreements. But really the focus and I hope we can eventually talk more about it is how much time they have together in building their friendship, building a relationship and talking about things that are mutually beneficial.

Q: Sir, change topic. Out of topic lang po. Sir, I understand, during this visit President Duterte will also meet with King Abdullah?

AMBASSADOR SORRETA: That’s planned. Moving targets. Kasi nga, it’s one day, there are several leaders there. There’s the lunch and then there’s the Valdai Forum itself. And it’s a very far — I mean it’s a very — it’s almost kilometer and a half above sea level. It’s up in the mountains. It’s a very nice isolated place.

So yes we want to have that bilaterals but trying to pin down the time. Kasi the — His Highness will also be meeting with Mr. Putin and meron din siyang mga events. So… Yes they — I hope they will — we’re arranging for them to meet.

Q: So sir, we are the ones who initiated this meeting?

AMBASSADOR SORRETA: Jordan’s a very important — it’s not my jurisdiction so baka ma — with all due respect to our very capable ambassador in Jordan. Jordan is a very important country to the Philippines in terms of… Primarily, we — they take good care, for the most part of our Filipinos.

And Jordan also has offered some support for us to be better equipped to deal with our internal [arms?] challenges. So beyond that might be out of my jurisdiction. Okay na?

Q: Balik tayo doon sa energy cooperation. Ano pong klaseng Russian participation ang ina-eye niyo with that? Energy?

AMBASSADOR SORRETA: Sa conventional energy, you know Russia is a major player in oil, in gas. So there’s that — that’s what we’re looking at. But we’re looking beyond. We’re looking at supply also to bring down ‘yung increase sa supplier. [Very below supply?], you can’t bring down prices. But we’re looking beyond and we’re looking at Russia investing in our energy sector, setting up plants for natural gas, different steps to liquefy for our natural gas. And we’re looking also, I understand — it’s still very early ‘no ang nuclear power na merong mga konting talks, trying to understand what Russia can do and what we are ready to absorb.

So medyo very, very basic pa rin. Pero in terms of nuclear energy, where we are — we have very advanced talks in non-energy uses for medicine, for radiology, for other uses of nuclear energy.

Q: Sir, can we see Russian companies exploring our potential in — ‘di ba sa Spratly meron tayong…?

AMBASSADOR SORRETA: I believe our policy is — you know that’s ours. If you want someone to have a contract with us, whether it’s Russian or — it’s ours.

Q:  So Russia is invited sir? Russia is invited?

AMBASSADOR SORRETA: You know, when it comes to exploring private business will look at the bottom line of its profits. So we have to show and we have been — ever since before pa. Kasi it’s ours eh. Parang huwag tayong mahihiya mag — ‘cause we’re trying to deal with our — the other contenders.

But it’s — there is always interest… Yes, Russia, I can say ‘no privately ‘no that Russia has — is interested in energy cooperation, not just — on many areas.

Q: Exploration particularly?

AMBASSADOR SORRETA: Well, exploration of course in this point because we need to know what’s there before we can proceed to… And then they’re willing to do it within our laws. So… Well, they’re not a claimant. If they come in, it’s really in full recognition of our sovereign rights and our right to explore or not to explore, to explore, to not to exploit.

So, they’re doing this in Vietnam in an area that’s disputed. But no mistake, the Reed Bank is ours and we should be dealing with it as a responsible state. Let’s not be shy about it.

Q: Sir, when we talk about investment, what do we expect from the President at the moment he goes back home?

AMBASSADOR SORRETA: Oh that — there will be a business — there will be some business signing kasi I don’t want to preempt any signing but just to share with you when the President two, three years ago, said I’m going to be — I want to be friends with Russia because I want to get Russian investments [people lack?] because Russia is under sanction. It’s — Russia’s a solid economy but it’s under sanction and…

So people are saying, “Wala namang pera ang Russia. Ba’t ganun si Presidente?” You know, our President’s very wise. The Russian money is not in Russia. The Russian money is outside Russia. It’s in the hands of what’s called oligarchs, the Russian oligarchs. These are the guys who have so much — so much spendable cash. They’re buying up football teams.

In UK, they’re — one oligarch has the biggest yacht in the world. Another guy bought the New Jersey Nets, the Brooklyn Nets, an NBA team.

So, what I’m saying is there is — there is Russian money to invest in the Philippines. And I’m — and we are targeting that and… But more importantly the — I believe the Russian money will come in when our political relations have reached that level of trust.

Kasi ngayon pa lang nag-iigting ang ating relasyon. ‘Yung Vietnam, Indonesia, Thailand, matagal na so malaki na ‘yung investments ng Russians doon. At saka pagdating sa tourism ho medyo naiinggit ako sa Thailand, 1.4 million ang pumupunta sa Thailand na Russians every year. Sa atin, 35,000.

Kasi nga, napaigting ‘yung relasyon, na-promote ang bansa so we’re doing that aggressively. We need to show — we need to deepen our relations and also to bring the Philippines and what it is — our culture, our history, our people, our art, our tourist destinations and our products to bring it to the Russian market, to bring it to Russians.

Kasi mahirap magbenta ng dried mango na walang konteksto eh na… In fact, medyo na… My first year here, I went to a CEO of a big supermarket chain and I brought a lot of — kasi nag — para akong naglalako ng Philippine products. I have to be aggressive eh kasi walang — walang base. So I showed them these variety of our dried chocolate covered dried mangoes. Masarap, may — may mura, may mahal.

 

Nagustuhan niya tapos sabi niya, “This is from Thailand?” In their minds kasi they associate dried mangoes with Thailand. They — tuna with Thailand, frui — fresh fruits with Vietnam, bananas from Ecuador.

 

You know, the banana market here is 1.2 billion and growing. One, they eat a lot of bananas. So, that’s one of the things we’re trying to get into. The alcohol industry is almost billions of dollars’ worth.

Q: Sir, do we need trade agreement para makapag…?

AMBASSADOR SORRETA: We need a — we do have a trade — trade agreement. What we need is a trade facilitation agreement. We need to update our double taxation — avoidance of double taxation agreement. We need to make it easier for business to get in touch. Then we also need to update our investment protection agreement. Medyo 90s ‘yung mga agreement dito tapos patay walang… So, we have to… And there are many things that have happened since then like double [unclear] — and other things. So, we have to — to update. But the biggest challenge is to overcome some stereotypes about…

Filipino rin ang daming stereotype about Russia eh. Siguro mga bata pa kayo pero nung lumalaki ako James Bond ‘no. Galing. Nanunuod ng James Bond. Maganda ‘yung Russian pero mamamatay tao.

Gustong patayin — magaling na mag — mag — oo, magaling mag-ice skating or ballet pero ang objective niya patayin si James Bond. So in our minds it’s a — and Hollywood also that the first Avenger, well, not the first — with the top — one of the top Avenger movies opens with the scene where… Nanunuod ba kayo ng Avenger?

Q: Yes, sir.

AMBASSADOR SORRETA: It opens with a scene with Black Widow being tortured by a Russian general — by a drunk Russian general who turns out to be so incompetent na a tie — a woman who’s all tied up gets to kill him and his two henchmen.

So, and then you have Bucky being brainwashed by the Russians and… So, it’s… In action movies now… And then you have — then you have Tom Cruise blowing up the Kremlin because they’re such bad people. I mean it’s a… And it starts very young because and if you play FPS — first-person shooters, Battlefield…

Even the young guys, young people, they play first-person shooter in their game consoles. ‘Yung pinapatay nila either Middle East terrorist o some rogue Russian gangster or general. So, it’s — it starts very early the stereotyping.

For us naman, they stereotype as more interest — not interested in Russian but more interested in our traditional partners. But you know we’re — I’m very — we’re all very proud, our economy is growing, it’s — but to sustain that growth we need to look beyond traditional partners. Hindi lang pwedeng si — si John lang ‘yung pinupuntahan. Kailangan tingnan mo rin si Ivan, si ano…

I mean, if you want that growth to be sustained and to expand, you can’t focus sa traditional market that’s having a trade war with China. I mean, you need to look — look beyond that. I mean… But there are risks involved but we have to do that.

Our economy is largely focused on very, very traditional partners and Russia is a big market. Hundred forty-five million people. And they’re always surprised when they — I tell them how many Filipinos, I said 110, hundred million. “What?” Kasi 145 million ang Russians eh. And they were like — they must think we’re like rabbits or something. “They reproduce like crazy.”

Dito naman as in ‘yung many parts of Europe medyo ‘yung population trend — demographics nila is people don’t have children or they’ll have children late and they only have one. So, it’s declining. Plus, there’s a lot of outward migration also from Russia. Usually a lot of Russian particularly women working outside Russia.

Q: Sir, in terms of investment by Russian companies in the Philippines, anong mga sectors ang tinitignan ninyo na they can invest?

AMBASSADOR SORRETA: ‘Yung isa is in our agricultural production. So we’re trying to entice them to look at our available lands to partner to produce agricultural products. And the other thing is industry. They can help — they’re already exporting trucks, the two top brands of Russia is in the Philippines. And hopefully they will see and expand our capabilities to either build components or to assemble. Who knows maybe one day manufacture. And there’s also — like I said in energy and one area they’re looking at is also in terms of information technology.

And rightly or wrongly, Russia is a powerhouse when it comes to IT. They’re almost blamed anything — every time something happens in America. “It’s — it’s the hackers. It’s the Russian hackers. It’s a…”

But the — beyond that, the fact is they are — they are very good at what they do. And we could — we should not be close-minded and you know learn. Doesn’t mean we’re going to become like them but we have to learn and… We have act — we have a — one, which I can’t say but there’s a Philippine company that is very interested in Russian IT and…

One of the challenges is language. So, for example, we’re trying to push for scholarships for Filipinos. Meron naman pero halos walang takers. Merong pupunta, mag-qua-qualify, after a few months naho-homesick. So… Kasi ‘yung system nila ng universities dito parang university cities, malalayo.

Out — and out — essentially campus nila is like a city, it’s a… So minsan nakakalungkot, so naho-homesick, umuuwi. So we’re trying to get more young people — especially scholars natin more scholarships on Russia. Our scholars are focusing on, again, the traditional areas.

I’m hoping there’s more policy studies about Russia, bilateral relation in Russia, the role of Russia in the world, Russia in our — in the region.

‘Yung topic ni Presidente maganda ‘yung sa Valdai. It’s the — the world order, the eastern view. I think of all the leaders there, he might have a very unique perspective. Kasi alam niyo naman Pilipino, isang paa nasa west eh, isang paa nasa east.

So I think he might have a good perspective. You know, we’re — we’re caught between the eagle and the dragon. So I think he might have a good perspective on that. But he’s — it’s a full schedule. Believe me I — it’s one of the longest trip he’s had but it’s also full of activities. Of course, there are little things like he will wreath — lay a wreath. He will be shown the Kremlin. He will be given an honorary doctorate. And so…

Q: Ayun sir, can you elaborate on that, sir?

AMBASSADOR SORRETA: Well, once he’s given that, he’s been bestowed — granted a — the — his honorary doctoral degree. I hope we’ll be the first one to go up there, shake his hand, and call him Dr. Duterte.

But, MGIMO is the top university in Russia and its focus is on international relations. And that’s how intense they believe internatio — and how intense they study international relations.

So, may mga area studies doon. May Philippines, may Timbuktu, may mga — they develop expertise in every aspect of their functional or geographic relationships. And they also do a lot of policy studies. So it’s a very… And they — they have given this honorary degree to other heads of states. So, after that he will speak and talk about our relations. Kasi sa Valdai, ang pag-uusapan niya ’yung parang world view ng different parts of the world or different views of the world.

Sa MGIMO, we’re hoping he will address the faculty and students and tell them what’s in store for Philippines, Russia in the future. Maybe Russia, ASEAN also for the future.

Then he will take questions from students. There will be a mini dialogue. And he — nag-uunahan kami kung sinong kakamay sa kanya. “Dr. Duterte.”

You know, it’s the only doctorate he’s accepted. He’s been offered by other countries even in the Philippines. But he — he has… So it is the first one.

Q: So sir bakit ito lang po ‘yung inaccept ni President?

AMBASSADOR SORRETA: I think you — I will not — I think you have to ask him. It’s a very personal thing.

Q: Sir, how did they decide to ano — how did they came to the decision to give the President this honorary degree?

AMBASSADOR SORRETA: The turn in Philippines-Russia relations, I think is nothing short of dramatic, given our… You know, history has long pulled as apart. Cold War has stood in the middle and prevented us from taking advantage of many opportunities.

Unlike other countries, na kahit nung Cold War may — active ‘yung exchanges nila. So there’s a realization… And the turnaround is — you know, we’re such a close US ally. It’s a bit dramatic for them. So for them, [unclear] So medyo nagulantang din sila nang konti na biglang…

But you know the policy of the President is building relations with Russia, not necessarily at the expense of others. So be friends with everyone. We just don’t want to get involved.

Kung nag-aaway Russia or — and US over an issue, that’s for them to solve. We don’t want to get in between those two. So he’s — that’s why he’s being — I believe he’s being granted…

There will be a citation in — something about for valuable contribution to Philippines-Russia relations. So that’s where he will go when…

Oh, just to add. You know, another first. ‘Yung sa — talagang mahal na mahal niya ‘yung ating mga Filipinos overseas. For the first time, for a Filipino community event, there will be a cultural presentation. Dinala niya dito ang Madrigal Singers and Bayanihan. May — siguro sa…

And I was surprised because he’s never done this. He’s never host — brought this. My other surprise is we are hosting — he has ordered us to hold a gala featuring Bayanihan and Madrigal Singers and to invite the Russian people and the diplomatic community to watch in — which really surprised many because he’s never hosted a gala in any of his travels.

And somebody said he isn’t even had hosted a cultural gala in the Philippines where — I mean this kind of performance. So it’s a bit — it’s very busy. It’s a lot of moving parts to organize. And I think it’s — it opens more doors for cooperation.

I think Russians will see — I know they will appreciate the artistry, the culture, the talent of our… Magaling ‘yung — magaling ‘yung Madrigal Singers tsaka ‘yung Bayanihan. These are award-winning groups. So Nick Lizaso is here, President of CCP who’s — he’s overseeing all of that.

They will be rehearsing here starting this afternoon I think. So all their equipment is here. And we just rented one of those big — the bass. Kasi hindi nila madala ‘yung bass nila sa eroplano. So we have to rent here.

And so that’s exactly quite a full — full calendar.

Q: Sir, medyo push ko lang po ‘yung kanina sinabi niyo about sa joint exploration. Parang — is Russia also looking into it sir? Parang gusto rin po ba nila gawin ‘yung joint exploration in Spratlys in the Philippines?

AMBASSADOR SORRETA: It’s really… Well, ‘pag sinabi mong joint exploration nakaka-characterize agad. Actually, we — it’s exploration under Philippine law. Baka hindi joint with the — well exploration pa lang eh. Pwedeng 100 percent foreign ang gagawa. But once you start extracting, that’s a 60-40. Sa exploration, it’s a…

Kasi ‘yung joint, that’s really a term that’s evolved and used over disputed areas for cooperation between the claimant parties. So I just want to emphasize, Russia is not going to go there to start claiming. So — kasi baka ma-associate. So it’s exploration under Philippine law.

I don’t think Russia want — magulo na eh. I don’t think they want — they wanna go in there.

Q: They expressed interest sir in doing that?

AMBASSADOR SORRETA: There is. In fact, there will be some news about it soon, I think. Russia is a exploration powerhouse eh. They’re  [unclear] — they’re in Africa, they’re in South America. They’re in Southeast Asia. They have the ability to drill under the most difficult — I mean explore under the most difficult circumstances like Siberia or… In the offshore, in the east coast, na every day parang bagyo ‘yung. Nanunuod ba kayo nung ano ‘yung…?

There’s this show where they get crabs, dangerous seas or something. Ganun ‘yung ibang mga exploration nila. So yes, it’s something to be discussed. And just want to emphasize the word, it’s not activity between claimants if ever they go in. They would have to set up under our laws and comply with our…

Q: So sir, this is going to be part of the discussion between President Putin and President Duterte?

AMBASSADOR SORRETA: That — to that detail I can’t — I can’t speak to that yet. Kasi very recent ‘yung…

Q: Sir, if it does happen, do you see this — they can play soon?

AMBASSADOR SORRETA: I have a hard time answering hypothetical questions. There’s so many ways to answer it because there’s no context. And as — you know ‘yung… You know, my — I remember when I was doing my practical for court practice, my professor was — will always get mad because I tended nga to ask hypothetical questions. ‘Cause it’s the one where you can trap someone eh. They will assume — when they an — if they answer, if they assume your premise. So, parang ‘yung — if — parang ina-assume mo meron ng exploration. Pero it’s still very far. For discussion pa.

Q: Pero sir, with Vietnam meron na silang ganyan sir, ‘di ba? Sa Russia?

AMBASSADOR SORRETA: Yes, yes but then their history is deeper eh, decades of relationship.  In fact, there are more Vietnamese here than Chinese in Russia.

Q: Because the Russian used to have the military base in…?

AMBASSADOR SORRETA: Cam Ranh Bay in Da Nang, yes. And no… It’s — their ties are much… ‘Yung Vietnamese ambassador dito, dito nag-aral eh. Ganun ka-deep ‘yung…

Q: Relations.

AMBASSADOR SORRETA: Oo. In fact, every one [unclear] pati yata ‘yung janitor eh. Ganun ka-close. Libo-libo ‘yung pinadadalang…

Q: Cold War era.

AMBASSADOR SORRETA: Oo dito na… And they still do it because few years ago I was in — sana makapunta kayo St. Petersburg maganda. I was in St. Petersburg. I saw a group of Vietnamese who look like soldiers, very small. So I asked my handler, I asked — they’re walking around being shown around mga — siguro at 80 or 90. And so I asked the handler, “Who are those?” “Oh, they are Vietnamese.” “Oh, why are they here?” “They’re training for their submarine ’cause — Vietnam bought six kilo-class submarine.

Q: From Russia.

AMBASSADOR SORRETA: So… So ganun ka-deep ‘yung… Hindi mura ‘yung submarine. But if you’re serious about defending your coastlines, submarine doctrines are very important kasi it’s a game changer.

‘Pag alam ng kalaban mo may submarine ka, they have to change their tactic because they don’t know where it is. So, they have to change it. And then they don’t — and then if you have two which a — which is usually the minimum number to have an effective submarine doctrine, then they really have to — it slows down their… It changes the whole texture of potential conflict.

‘Yung sa atin naman, we — we really just want credi — we — credible defense.

But the reality is you can’t — you can’t really defeat a huge military that would try to — we can [bloody?] their nose and slow it down, give us enough time to seek political solution — to seek solutions under the UN charter for armed conflict.

So, so ‘yun.

Q: Sir, ‘yung sinasabi niyo kanina about doon sa nuclear, pwede niyo pong i-elaborate lang?

AMBASSADOR SORRETA: Weren’t you here before for that? Ah, no. Ah, sa… Hindi malayo pa kasi we need to have a nuclear policy eh. I think it’s best to start discussing the — the value of nuclear energy for power generation when we have either a law or an executive order that clearly — that’s been — particularly a law that’s gone through public hearings and — and then it’s shaped by a — some consensus — a national consensus on how to — or if ever to resort to a nuclear energy for power generation.

I think that — that would be — I hope there’s some move towards that, the policy and legal framework for it. Then we also have a big problem, we need to — if we’re going to a nuclear energy for power generation, we need to fix our research reactor.

You need to have a small research reactor calibration purposes for a — I don’t know these but… So ‘yung nasa may UP, ‘yung  — ‘yung itlog doon, 1950s pa ‘yun eh, binigay ng Amerikano ‘yun in this project “Atoms for Peace.”

That — that’s probably something we need to — you need — any country needs that because also for monitoring and calibrating radiological machines like medical machines, measuring machines, and other equipment, you do need a research lab and experts. ‘Yung mga nuclear physicists natin hindi pa guma-graduate nire-recruit na ng UAE eh. I mean other — they — may trabaho na sa abroad. So ‘yung manpower capabilities natin, expertise, so there’s a lot to build.

I think that can be done through a law or an executive order, that lays out the policy. Pero the potential of a nuclear energy is fantastic because it’s a clean energy. It’s a — I think — ito personal lang but for the Philippines, naalala niyo nung 90s? ‘Yung rolling — ‘yung palaging may blackout, ang solusyon nagdala tayo ng barge — ‘yung diesel barge. Napaka-dumi ‘yun.

Q: Mausok.

AMBASSADOR SORRETA: There’s a technology now where the Russians have convert — well based on their dual use technologies. Alam niyo ‘yung mga submarines tsaka mga barko na may nuclear reactor na pwedeng tatlong taon hindi nagre-refuel? They’ve built what’s called modular nuclear reactor. Maliit lang siya. Mga 100 megawatts lang ‘yung output. Pero ‘yung — it’s on a barge so pwedeng kunwari i-park sa Palawan. ‘Pag hinook-up nila ‘yun, babagsak ang presyo ng kuryente kahit naka-aircon ka buong araw. So that’s one of the…

But I’m not saying they’re talking about that but the potential for nuclear energy keeps on getting safer, getting utility more — more variety for its use. So, Russia is at the cutting edge on that. Even though it’s an oil power so… Kaya mura kuryente dito eh. Kita ninyo ‘pag gabi bukas lahat ng ilaw. Kasi may nuclear na, meron pang fossil fuel.

Ang wala masyado ‘yung ano — ‘yung wind — meron din pero kokonti. May research sa solar kasi hindi pa kailangan tsaka madilim dito eh.

Hirap mag-solar medyo maku — makulimlim. And ‘yung tidal meron din silang research, sa mga rivers, sa offshore, so meron din. But they’re leader in nuclear and of course fossil. And malapit eh. ‘Yung Vladivostok is just five days — mga nine days sailing time.

Kasi last year for the first time, may Philippine warship na bumisita sa Vladivostok and I was there when it was coming in. It was being escorted by Russian warships into the port and I was looking at it and I said, there was a time that the only time these two ships will be facing each other with guns drawn during the Cold — Cold War.

Pero ngayon they were coming into port, side by side and then they park — park doon sa… Nag-[burst?] sa ano. So I was — it’s quite the — malaki ‘yung barko natin eh. ‘Yung BRP Tarlac yata ‘yun.

Tapos lahat — tapos this year pumunta uli ‘yung isa — ‘yung isang malaking barko. So, it — it almost symbolizes that we — that the — the weight of the Cold War has been lifted and we can move freely. ‘Di pero meron pa rin mga challenges. I’m sure some countries don’t like it that we’re getting close to the — to the Russians so ayun.

 Source: PCOO-PND (Presidential News Desk)

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