Press Release
October 22, 2015

Address of the Honorable Franklin M. Drilon President of the Senate
of the Republic of the Philippines before the Council of Federation
of the Federal Assembly of Russia 21 October 2015, Moscow

Your Excellency, Madame Valentina I. Matvienko,
Chairperson, Council of Federation of the Federal Assembly of Russia Distinguished Deputy Chairpersons and
Honorable Members of this august body,
Ladies and gentlemen,

(Expanding the Frontiers of our Friendship)

I come to your historic country with the warm greetings and goodwill of the President of the Republic of the Philippines, His Excellency President Benigno S. Aquino III, the Philippine Congress, and the 100 million people of my country.

I am deeply honored to address this august Chamber. And I hope to humbly contribute to the common efforts of the Russian Federation and the Philippines to expand the frontiers of our friendship.

I was most fortunate to host in Manila last November, Your Chairperson, Madame Valentina I. Matvienko. Short as the visit was, we in the Philippine Senate learned much of the workings of the Russian Parliament and the foreign policy directions of your country.

During her visit in Manila, Madame Matvienko stressed that the Philippines and Russia should have an agreement that will allow direct flights between our countries to promote greater people-to-people contacts.

A few months later, after years of stalled negotiations, our respective government panels signed a new air agreement providing precisely that - direct flights between our countries.

I must acknowledge her vision in fostering regional cooperation. The Agreement of Friendship and Cooperation between St. Petersburg and our Cebu City has facilitated economic, social and artistic cooperation. Madame Matvienko was Governor of St. Petersburg when the sister-city agreement was signed in 2009. We look forward to more sister-city agreements, for its establishment is an excellent venue to promote people-to-people contacts.

Allow me then to thank you, Madame Chairperson, not only for your warm hospitality and profound friendship, but also for all your efforts to bring our two countries and peoples together.

(Legislative Partnership)

To strengthen our inter-parliamentary relations, Madame Matvienko and I signed yesterday a new Agreement of Cooperation between the Council of the Federation and Senate of the Philippines. This is the third agreement between our parliaments - with the first two having been signed in 1994 and 2008. These developments paved the way for important agreements that facilitate the movement of our peoples, such as the bilateral visa waiver agreement for our diplomats and officials, and the 30-day visa free privilege to Russian nationals.

To bring our respective Chambers closer to each other, the Philippine Senate maintains an active Philippine-Russia Parliamentary Friendship Association. I hope that the Federal Council can also establish a counterpart friendship group as this would serve as our direct link in inter-parliamentary cooperation.

Geography has destined us to be far away from each other. But this has not prevented us from forging a friendship based on shared interests and experiences. And we want to bring this friendship to new heights. We can achieve this through more people-to-people contacts among us parliamentarians, among our businessmen and our tourists.

(Shared Interests, Common Sacrifices)

Yesterday I laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier to pay my respects to your heroes of the Rodina, who died in valor in the Great Patriotic War.

The solemn ceremony serves as a powerful reminder of the immense sacrifice your people made in defense of freedom and human dignity during World War II. Your valiant struggle resonates well with us Filipinos, for we too had to fight and shed blood for our right to exist as an independent, sovereign nation.

Like you, our people suffered immensely. Manila was the second most devastated Allied city after Warsaw. What remains painful to us is not so much the destruction of structures but the damage to our cultural heritage - the invaluable legacies of our past and markers of our identity as a people.

(Together at the Birth of the United Nations)

This is why 2015 is an important year for us. This year, we commemorate the 70th anniversary of the end of the Second World War and the birth of the United Nations. Upon its inception, the United Nations aimed to foster a community of nations in order to prevent a repeat of another world war.

It promised to promote a more humane and rules-based world order anchored on the principles of sovereign equality and independence.

Both the Philippines and Russia were at the birth of the United Nations. In crafting the UN Charter, we would find ourselves working together to outlaw war, uphold peace, and the rule of law. These are principles that we - Russians and Filipinos - share and strongly believe in, and must therefore continue to uphold and defend.

These are the same principles that guide the Philippines during these challenging times in our region in the Asia-Pacific. The Philippines is committed to the peaceful settlement of conflicting claims in the West Philippine Sea in accordance with international law, in particular the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, or the UNCLOS. Consistent with these norms, we have initiated arbitration proceedings with the appropriate UN tribunal with the firm hope that through international law, peace and justice will prevail.

We are grateful to Russia for your continuing interest in this issue. Your support for the peaceful settlement of international disputes is consistent with, and supports, our principled position that the West Philippine Sea dispute should be settled according to the rule of law, particularly the UNCLOS.

(People to People Contacts)

Next year, 2016, marks the 40th anniversary of the establishment of our diplomatic relations. But let me note that even before the establishment of formal relations, there were already contacts between our two peoples over a century earlier.

The seas that separate us may be vast but they also served as our bridge. Russian naval expeditions successfully reached the Philippines in the early part of the 19th century. In 1817, one of the very first Russian navigators to see my country was V.M. Golovin who started his naval career on a ship named "Ne Tron Ménia".

Your navigators recorded their impressions of my country's culture and traditions, which influenced the perception of Russian society of my country at that time. Ivan Alexandrovich Goncharov, for instance, in his "Notes on the way from Manila to the coast of Siberia", raved about the natural wonders of our blue seas and lush islands.

This wonderful description of our archipelago remains true to this day for my country's 7,100 islands. This may very well be one of the reasons why more and more Russians visit our country. Last year, we welcomed over 32,000 Russian tourists. We are ready to receive more. The new air services arrangement we concluded last May will hopefully result in higher tourism traffic between Russia and the Philippines.

One cannot underestimate the importance of people-to-people contacts in fostering a dynamic, wide-ranging, and fruitful bilateral cooperation. Thus, aside from tourism, may I also strongly recommend greater cooperation in the humanitarian sphere, especially cultural, educational and scientific exchanges.

I recall that in the 1980s, we saw the flowering of Russia Philippines cultural relations. Our government sent Filipino artists to study and train in Russia - upon your government's invitation and sponsorship.

Our cooperation produced two world renowned artists: Prima Ballerina Lisa Macuja who studied at the Vaganova Choreographic Institute, now known as the Academy of Russian Ballet in St. Petersburg; and concert pianist Rowena Arrieta who obtained her Masters Degree at the Moscow Conservatory of Music.

May I add that only very recently in St. Petersburg, one of our best Filipino filmmakers, Brillante Mendoza, received the Outstanding Artistic Award in the 25th International Film Festival "Message to Man".

We thank your government for the opportunities it has provided for our artists to train in your country.

(A Global Partner)

We want the Russian Federation to be one of our global partners. Thus, the Philippines is proposing an arrangement of mutual emergency assistance to nationals caught in conflict and crisis situations in Third-World countries. We recognize your capacity and expertise in this area and laud your humanitarian policies.

You came to our aid when super typhoon Haiyan struck in 2013. You also helped us evacuate some of our nationals out of Yemen last May. For these, allow me to convey the sincerest gratitude and appreciation of the Government of the Philippines.

These concrete expressions of solidarity nourish the ever-growing friendship between our peoples. This is important because government-to-government relations become stronger when rooted in strong people-to-people linkages.

This is of particular relevance to the Philippines and Russia during this period of change and uncertainty in the international arena. The emergence of complex issues resulting from globalization are challenges that we must jointly face.

We note that your country has actively engaged the international community through practical cooperative actions to combat and prevent terrorism, including terrorist financing, and build the capabilities of its international partners. We also note the call to action of President Vladimir Putin at the 70th UN General Assembly against the twin threats of terrorism and extremism now engulfing many countries. We laud Russia's effort to stamp out the scourge of terrorism by working with the United Nations, the European Union, ASEAN, and NATO.

(Russia in Asia)

Even with the many challenges that Russia is facing, your country has firmly decided to engage our region. The Philippines welcomes Russia's renewed focus on the Asia-Pacific. Your stated intention of enhancing relations with countries in the region will be met with enthusiasm by my country.

Russia cuts across two great continents - Europe and Asia. Russia should then be a vital part of the region's economic integration process. Its voice should be heard in ongoing discussions on the future of the Asia Pacific regional architecture.

Russia has an important role to play in the framework of ASEAN-led mechanisms, such as the East Asia Summit, the ASEAN Defense Ministers' Meeting Plus, and the ASEAN Regional Forum.

As an independent power that adheres to a rules-based order, Russia can contribute significantly to the maintenance of peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific which is a precondition for the continued progress and growth of our region.

Next year, ASEAN and Russia will celebrate 20 years of productive dialogue partnership. The Philippines supports and looks forward to Russia's successful hosting of the ASEAN-Russia Commemorative Summit in your beautiful city of Sochi. We are confident that both sides will be able to agree on a viable new Plan of Action that will serve as our blueprint on how and where to proceed in the next five years.

These positive developments at the regional level should be complemented by deeper engagement at the bilateral level.

(The Philippines: A Growing Economy)

The Philippines is particularly keen on further improving its economic relations with Russia. We are one of the fastest growing economies in Asia, second only to China. In 2014, our economy grew by 6.1%, and this year we expect to sustain that growth. We have likewise received sovereign investment rating upgrades from the major credit rating agencies.

These are the results of the reforms implemented by His Excellency President Benigno S. Aquino III to promote good governance, curb corruption and strengthen the rule of law.

I am proud to say that the Senate of the Philippines has contributed greatly in advancing our agenda for inclusive growth by enacting relevant laws.

The Philippines' long-term economic outlook is indeed optimistic. Our greatest asset is an educated manpower pool. We now have a vast pool of young, talented Filipinos who are eager and capable of seizing the benefits of technology and innovation to create wealth for the country. On top of this, we are well-positioned, by geography, to serve as a hub for investments, trade, and services within the ASEAN Economic Community.

(Economic Partnership with Russia)

To sustain the country's growth momentum, we need to expand the horizons of our economic partnership. We need to look beyond traditional partners and develop new ones.

This is where the Philippines and Russia, one of the largest economies in the world, can work together with tangible and immediate benefit for our people. As discussed during my meeting with Madame Matvienko last year, we should start seriously exploring possibilities, specifically in the fields of energy and transportation infrastructure, where our interests are complementary.

I am therefore very pleased to note that contacts between our business sectors are active. Last September, a delegation from the Philippine-Russian Business Assembly visited Moscow and met with its counterpart, the Russia-Philippine Business Council. I take this as a very positive sign that augurs well for the future of our economic relations.

It is no secret that politics sometimes makes interaction between countries a bit more complicated. I expect this, given the complexities of history and traditional alliances. But our relations need not be anchored on geopolitical considerations alone. I know that we can rise above it all and surmount whatever difficulties we may face by focusing on our shared interests.

(When Our Leaders Meet in APEC 2015)

Because of our shared interests, Philippines-Russia relations have consistently grown since we established diplomatic relations almost 40 years ago - no matter what the global context was. Admittedly, there have been ebbs and flows, but we have marched on as we always should. As our relations mature, so should the quality and intensity of our engagement.

This year we have the perfect opportunity to create the impetus for this when His Excellency, Vladimir Putin, visits Manila during the Asia Pacific Economic Leaders Meeting. It will be a historic first ever visit of a Russian Head of State to the Philippines. This will usher a new phase in Philippines-Russia engagement - one that is forward-looking, agile, and growing ever closer.

Together with our Leaders and our peoples, we can, and we will, expand the frontiers of our friendship.

Allow me then to end by quoting one of your own, the great writer, Leo Tolstoy, who in his famous novel, "War and Peace", wrote, "Man lives consciously for himself, but serves as an unconscious instrument for the achievement of historical, universally human goals."

Long live the peoples of Russia and the Philippines!

Spasiba bolshoi!

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