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Is The Philippines Shopping For Russian Arms?

September 24, 2016


The short answer is a definitive “No.” It just so happened that during a recent visit to a military base, which President Rodrigo Duterte has made a habit of, he mentioned either Beijing or Moscow could furnish loans for arms acquisitions. These statements were made a week after the ASEAN Summit in Vientiane, Laos.

It was in Laos where Duterte’s off the cuff remarks appeared to have strained Manila’s ties with Washington, DC. The diplomatic fallout led to a flurry of pronouncements from the Philippine capital–many of them coming from the President himself–about turning away from US influence.

There is substance to the President’s claims of buying Russian and Chinese arms during his Villamor Airbase speech before air force personnel on September 13. On September 7 the Russian Ministry of Defense posted a short press clip about meeting a delegation from the Philippines led by Raymundo De Vera Elefante.


Via Russian Ministry of Defense.

This took place on the second day of the massive Army 2016 arms show to advertise Russian weapon systems for export. While no specifics were given by the Russian side it appears the meeting didn’t lead to tangible discussion of weapons and equipment the Philippines wants to buy.

Russia and China manufacture equipment well-suited for domestic security but genuine purchases aren’t credible unless these are announced by the Philippines’ own Department of National Defense (DND). There are other reasons why these transactions are unlikely.

First, the Philippine military is equipped with US surplus and token amounts of NATO-specific gear. It has no experience buying, much less using, Russian equipment.

Second, there are no allocations in the current national budget for additional imports of foreign weapon systems in 2016.

Third, relations with China haven’t improved to the point where arms shipments can take place. Russia, on the other hand, doesn’t consider the Philippines an ally.

Since becoming President on June 30, Duterte has embraced the police and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) as indispensable tools for his avowed war on drugs. The President even promised a salary hike for the military next year once a new defense budget is approved and called on soldiers to defeat the Abu Sayyaf terrorist group, whose members launched a bomb attack on Davao city–the President’s hometown–on September 3, a day before Duterte left for Laos.

While the Philippines’ defense budget for 2016 marks a historic peak the new administration doesn’t have plans to put the military on a war footing against China’s encroachment on the country’s maritime border. Below is the previous Aquino administration’s defense spending per year since 2010 denominated in dollars.

2010: $2.65 billion

2011:  $2.7 billion

2012: $2.8 billion

2013: $3.2 billion

2014: $2.6 billion

2015: $2.5 billion

2016: $3.8 billion

At this point it’s too early to tell if President Duterte intends to pivot the AFP away from its US reliance or if he plans on another modernization drive like the previous administration.