Russian leader Vladimir Putin is “my personal friend” but the Philippines will remain neutral and not deploy troops to assist Washington if the US military intervenes in the Ukraine conflict, President Rodrigo Duterte said, according to a transcript released Friday.
Duterte made the comments in a speech during a visit to Leyte province in the central Philippines a day earlier, and a week after the Filipino envoy to the United States said Manila would allow American forces to use Philippine bases if the war in Ukraine spread to Asia .
“I am pained by what’s happening. Putin is a friend. He’s my personal friend, ”Duterte said speaking about Russia’s onslaught on the smaller former Soviet Socialist republic next-door.
Duterte reiterated that his country must also remain neutral in the conflict raging in Europe.
“We have to end this stupid war. Other countries – there’s violence in Europe, and Russia has wreaked havoc there. So we better – we better maintain our neutrality. Let’s avoid meddling in it so that we won’t get involved, ”the 76-year-old Filipino leader said in a speech delivered in Visayan, according to the transcript released by the presidential office.
Washington and Manila, however, are bound by the Mutual Defense Treatya bilateral military pact signed in 1951 that calls on both nations to support each other in times of war or aggression.
“I won’t commit. If the Americans engage in a war and they’re here, why will I send my soldiers? It’s not our battle to fight, ”said Duterte, who will be leaving office after general elections in May.
“If the violence spills over and the war somehow gets here, that will be very difficult. (But) I won’t, I really won’t. For as long as I’m President, I won’t send a single soldier of mine to go to war, ”he added.
Duterte also said that he planned to skip a meeting of leaders from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations bloc with US President Joe Biden in Washington that had been scheduled for March 28.
Cambodia, this year’s ASEAN chair, however announced on May 9 that the summit was being postponed indefinitely because some Southeast Asian leaders could not join the meeting as scheduled. In Washington on Thursday, a White House official said it was discussing new dates for the meeting with ASEAN, according to a report by Reuters.
Duterte’s remarks about Ukraine contrasted starkly with a statement made on March 10 by Jose Manuel Romualdezthe Philippine ambassador in Washington, who indicated then that Manila would honor the Mutual Defense Treaty.
During an online forum, Romualdez told reporters that Duterte had told him “that – if push comes to shove – the Philippines will be ready to be part of the effort, especially if this Ukrainian crisis spills over to the Asian region.”
“He offered that the Philippines will be ready to open its doors, especially to our ally the US in using our facilities, any facilities they may need,” Romualdez said, speaking from Washington.
Romualdez said that Duterte had also indicated his approval to open former military bases in Subic Bay and what is now the Clark Freeport and Special Economic Zone in the case of “emergency situation.”
“I’m pretty sure that the president meant this to be in an emergency situation where – let’s pray it doesn’t happen – but, if it spreads out in the Asian region for some reason or another, the president obviously sees that need for us to make a choice, ”Romualdez said.
Since Duterte took office in June 2016, he has tried to establish closer ties with China and Russia, big powers that are both rivals of the United States. However, Washington has since continued its military and financial aid to the Philippines.
Although he expressed admiration for his Russian counterpart, Duterte said that unlike Putin, he did not kill innocent civilians.
“Putin even killed civilians there. Me, who did I kill? I killed criminals. Why did I kill them? Because of drugs. Son of a bitch, they will destroy my country, ”said Duterte, referring to his administration’s bloody campaign against illegal drugs.
Russia started its invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24, drawing international condemnations and strict economic sanctions, led by the US, in a bid to stop Putin’s punishing military offensive.
On Mar. 2, the Philippines joined 140 other United Nations member-states to vote in favor of a General Assembly resolution that condemned Russia’s military strike on Ukraine.
Romualdez, the Filipino envoy, had also said that while Duterte “values the friendship he made with President Putin and President Xi [Jinping of China]he knows that this thing is happening right now in Ukraine is something that should not have happened because it was unprovoked. ”