President Putin bestows Order of Friendship on Filipino

Armi Lopez Garcia, who serves as the honorary consul of Russia in the Philippines, was awarded with the Russian state decoration by President Vladimir Putin during the celebrations at the Kremlin Palace in Moscow. (AP)
Updated 22 November 2019

President Putin bestows Order of Friendship on Filipino

  • Honor highlights growing Philippines-Russia ties
  • Manila’s close ties to US put Philippines-Russia relations  on ice lately

MANILA: Each year, Russians celebrate National Unity Day on November 4 to commemorate Moscow’s liberation from Polish invaders in 1612.

This year, the day also marked a milestone in the history of the Philippines-Russia relations: For the first time the prestigious Russian Order of Friendship was conferred on a Filipino.

Armi Lopez Garcia, who serves as the honorary consul of Russia in the Philippines, was awarded with the Russian state decoration by President Vladimir Putin during the celebrations at the Kremlin Palace in Moscow.

Established on March 2, 1994, the Order of Friendship is given to Russians and foreign nationals who have made outstanding contributions in strengthening friendship and cooperation with Russia and its people.

At a reception hosted by the Russian ambassador to Manila, Igor Khovaev, at his residence in Makati City last week, Garcia said she still feels ecstatic about receiving the recognition from the Russian Federation

“I am really very happy and very honored. I think this is very timely,” Garcia told reporters at the reception. She pointed out that the “relationship between our two countries (today) is at its peak and the relationship President Rodrigo Duterte and President Vladimir Putin is very, very good.”

“I think this is a signal that we have to move forward,” she said.

Garcia, a Cebu-based entrepreneur who is chair of the Philippine-Russian Business Assembly, was appointed honorary consul in 2007. Back then, she said a lot of people, including her friends, asked her: “Why Russia?”. Her answer would always be, “why not?”

Garcia said that since 1996, long before her designation as honorary consul, she was involved in activities such as cultural events to promote friendship between the two countries. In fact, she was instrumental in the signing of the sisterhood agreement between the cities of Cebu and Vladivostok.

Garcia noticed that many Filipinos had a negative perception about the Russian people, which they apparently based only on movies that often depict Russians as villains. So, it dawned on her that she had to do something.

“The Russians are really very warm people, very educated and their values are like ours . . . In fact there are so many similarities between the Filipino values and the Russian values, and they are also practicing Christians. I feel that it is unfair that not too many people know about this,” she said.

Khovaev congratulated Garcia and said that “Filipinos have every reason to be proud of her” for making tangible contributions to make the two nations closer to each other.

“It’s a very significant, a really important event because she is the first Filipino to receive a high-level Russian state award in the Kremlin,” the ambassador said.

“She (Garcia) has made a great contribution to the strengthening of friendship and partnership of our two countries. She helped many Filipinos discover Russia, to understand that Russians and Filipinos have a lot in common. She did a lot to promote Russian culture. At the same time she helped many Russians . . . to understand better your country and culture, the mentality, the psychology of your people, your lifestyle,” Khovaev said.

The Russian envoy described Garcia as “a wonderful bridge connecting our two nations.”

“She’s doing a lot . . . in culture, education, and many other fields. So for us, Madam Garcia, she is our very, very close, very good friend, and our sister,” he said.

The conferment of the state award “is very symbolic.”

“It’s a very good signal, a clear message to all Filipinos that Russia is a friendly country. . . Russia wants to be a close friend and reliable partner of your country,” he said.

Khovaev said the decision to award such high-level state honor “is an exclusive right of the president of the Russian Federation.”

Philippine and Russia diplomatic ties were forged in 1976, but bilateral engagement was still “at a nascent stage in practically all areas of cooperation.” Relations, according to a foreign affairs official, could be best described as cordial albeit modest in scope and depth.

Experts say the reason for Manila’s cool relations with Moscow was because the Philippines is the United States’ oldest Asian ally and staunchest partner in the region.

But in 2016, when Duterte came into office, the tough-talking president announced his administration’s independent foreign policy that sought to broaden the horizons of friendship and cooperation with non-traditional partners. This opened a new chapter in the history of Philippines-Russia relations.

In October, during his second visit to Moscow, Duterte reaffirmed the Philippines’ strong commitment to building a robust and comprehensive partnership with Russia as both countries sowed the seeds of greater cooperation encouraged by his first Russia trip two years ago.

“In 2017, during my first visit to Russia, we successfully set the foundation for a closer bilateral cooperation,” Duterte said. He noted that since then, “we have seen remarkable progress in our engagement” and “have made historic firsts” in key strategic areas such as economic, defense and security, and military technical cooperation.

He cited the port visit of BRP Tarlac to Vladivostok in 2018, the first by a Philippine navy ship.

Also in 2018, the Philippines sent Col. Dennis Pastor to be its defense attaché to Russia — the first such appointment in more than 40 years of diplomatic relations between the two states.

This year, Moscow installed Col. Dmitry Nikitin as its first defense attaché to Manila.

Following Duterte’s trip to Russia in October, Khovaev announced that Putin had accepted the Philippine leader’s invitation for him to come to Manila.

While details have yet to be disclosed, it would be another milestone in Philippine-Russia relations.

During his meeting with Duterte last month, Putin described the Philippines as “a very important partner of Russia.”
 


Australia offers safe haven to Hong Kongers, sparking China fury

Updated 6 min 59 sec ago

Australia offers safe haven to Hong Kongers, sparking China fury

  • In addition to extending the visas of 10,000 Hong Kongers already in the country, Australia threw open the door to thousands more wanting to start a new life Down Under
  • Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the decisions were taken in response to China’s imposition last week of a tough new security law in Hong Kong

SYDNEY: Australia offered pathways to permanent residency for thousands of people from Hong Kong on Thursday in response to China’s crackdown on dissent, drawing a furious reply from Beijing.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said his government was suspending its extradition agreement with the city and, in addition to extending the visas of 10,000 Hong Kongers already in the country, threw open the door to thousands more wanting to start a new life Down Under.
Morrison said the decisions were taken in response to China’s imposition last week of a tough new security law in Hong Kong, which he said “constitutes a fundamental change of circumstances” for the semi-autonomous territory.
“Australia is adjusting its laws, our sovereign laws, our sovereign immigration program, things that we have responsibility for and jurisdiction over, to reflect the changes that we’re seeing take place there,” he said during a press conference.
Beijing shot back, condemning the Australian announcements as violations of “fundamental principles of international relations.”
“China... reserves the right to take further reactions, all consequences will be borne by Australia,” warned Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian.
“Any attempts to suppress China will never succeed.”
Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne said China’s moves in Hong Kong were discussed earlier Thursday with Australia’s so-called “Five Eyes” security partners — New Zealand, the United States, Britain, and Canada.
The new law, which followed sometimes-violent pro-democracy protests, is the most radical change in Hong Kong’s freedoms since Britain handed the city back to China in 1997 under an agreement designed to preserve its way of life for 50 years.
China has bristled at widespread global criticism of the law.
Beijing in recent months has imposed tariffs on some Australian imports and impeded trade in other key commodities in response to Australian steps to counter Chinese interference in the country.
China, Australia’s biggest trade partner and a competitor for influence in the Pacific, was notably infuriated when Canberra led calls for a probe into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic.
New Zealand is also reviewing its relationship with Hong Kong because of the new law, Foreign Minister Winston Peters said Thursday, “including extradition arrangements, controls on exports of strategic goods, and travel advice.”
Canada has also suspended its extradition treaty with Hong Kong, while the British government has offered more than three million Hong Kongers a broader path to citizenship.
Morrison brushed aside questions about whether the challenge over Hong Kong would likely lead to further Chinese retaliation.
“We will make decisions about what’s in our interests, and we will make decisions about our laws and our adviseries, and we will do that rationally and soberly and consistently,” he said.
He also appeared undaunted by China’s angry response, issuing a joint statement with Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe following a video summit hours later challenging Beijing’s moves to assert control over the strategic South China sea.
In a thinly veiled reference to China, the two leaders condemned “recent negative developments” in the region, including the militarization of disputed islands and the “dangerous and coercive use” of naval ships and “maritime militia” against other nations’ vessels.
Under the measures announced Thursday, 10,000 Hong Kong citizens and residents in Australia on student or temporary work visas will be allowed to remain in the country for an additional five years, with a pathway to permanent residency.
The program was also offered to Hong Kong entrepreneurs or skilled workers who wish to relocate to Australia in the future.
“If there are businesses that wish to relocate to Australia, creating jobs, bringing investment, creating opportunities for Australia, then we will be very proactive in seeking to encourage that,” he said.
The move echoed Australia’s response to the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown when Canberra offered refuge to thousands of Chinese students and their families.
But it contrasts with the current conservative government’s policy of restricting immigration.
Morrison said he did not expect a rush of new visa applications from Hong Kongers, in part due to coronavirus travel restrictions.
And he added that it would be “very disappointing” if China tried to prevent Hong Kong citizens from taking advantage of the offer.