Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte claimed earlier this week that his Russian counterpart and “idol” Vladimir Putin had offered him a “buy one, get one free” deal on rifles.
Duterte made the statement upon returning to the Philippines from Peru, where he met Putin in person for the first time at the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit there this week. “It’s for free, so I get double,” Duterte claimed. Reuters reports that Duterte boasted of his new relationship with Putin in the context of being frustrated with the United States, “bemoaning” that the Philippine military has largely depended on purchasing “hand-me-downs” from the American armed forces.
Duterte also had some harsh words for U.S. Senator Ben Cardin, who had attempted to block an appropriations bill to sell new M-4 assault rifles to Duterte’s law enforcement. “Why should I have to belabor the point with Cardin? If he does not want us to be allies, we’ll go to Russia and China,” Duterte argued, according to the Chinese state news outlet Xinhua.
In the same speech, Duterte took some time to rail against the elites in his own country, according to Reuters. “The only way for deliverance of this country is to remove it from the clutches of the few people who hold the power and money. I do not owe you anything, that’s precisely why I was avoiding you during the last election,” he told the nation’s wealthy. “I am not trying to destroy you. You have the advantage, you’re here already, be content with that. But let us open everything.”
The Russian government appears to be confirming Duterte’s statements. The Russian propaganda outlet Russia Today (RT) reported shortly thereafter that Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev had announced the beginning of talks to conclude a “defense cooperation agreement.”
The statement did not specify what defense topics the military leadership of both nations would discuss, instead merely confirming the intention to “negotiate an agreement between the Russian Ministry of Defense and the Department of National Defense of the Philippines on defense co-operation.”
The talks will begin in a near, unspecified future, as Duterte has committed to sending both his chief diplomat and his defense minister to Russia before visiting himself. Duterte has repeatedly asserted that he wishes to expand diplomatic relations with China and Russia at the expense of the long-lasting bilateral ties with the United States and has expressed a personal affection for Putin. Philippine newspapers mocked Duterte upon meeting Putin last week, describing him as a “starstruck schoolboy who just met his idol.”
Duterte himself did little to dispute that impression, dwelling on how pleasing Putin’s smile was to him. “It’s like… The way… It’s something that you feel,” he told reporters. “Because his laugh is big. He has a wide laugh. His laugh is wide.” The only reason he is delaying his own visit to Moscow, Duterte said, is because “I can’t stand the cold.”
This giddy friendliness with Putin stands in stark contrast to Duterte’s appraisal of U.S. President Barack Obama (whom he has repeatedly called a “son of a whore“) or U.S. Ambassador to the Philippines Philip Goldberg whom he has referred to as an “annoying… homosexual son of a whore.”
Duterte has appeared more publicly favorable to incoming president Donald Trump, joking that both he and Trump “curse a lot” and wishing him a “long life.”
The Philippine military’s leadership has repeatedly insisted that ties between Manila and Washington will continue to flourish despite Duterte’s threats. Earlier this week, Philippine General Ricardo R. Visaya and U.S. Admiral Harry B. Harris met for a Mutual Defense Board and Security Engagement Board meeting, which they concluded with a positive statement of cooperation. “The successful completion of the MDB-SEB ensures continued, robust relations between the U.S. and Philippine militaries,” the statement read. “This highlights the enduring commitment of both countries to the U.S.-Philippine alliance.”