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.”
 


World Bank: Indonesia forest fires cost $5.2bn in economic losses

Updated 11 December 2019

World Bank: Indonesia forest fires cost $5.2bn in economic losses

  • Economic losses equal to 0.5 percent of Indonesia’s gross domestic product
  • Drifting smoke at the height of the dry season in September triggered a diplomatic spat between Jakarta and Kuala Lumpur

JAKARTA: The total damage and economic loss from forest fires in Indonesia this year amounted to at least $5.2 billion, equal to 0.5 percent of gross domestic product, the World Bank said in a report on Wednesday.
The estimate was based on its assessment in eight affected provinces from June to October 2019, though analysts at the multinational bank said fires had continued to rage through to November.
“The forest and land fires, as well as the resulting haze, led to significant negative economic impacts, estimated at $157 million in direct damage to assets and $5.0 billion in losses from affected economic activities,” the World Bank wrote in the report.
Over 900,000 people reported respiratory illnesses, 12 national airports halted operations, and hundreds of schools in Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore had to temporarily close due to the fires.
Drifting smoke at the height of the dry season in September triggered a diplomatic spat between Kuala Lumpur and Jakarta.
More than 942,000 hectares (2.3 million acres) of forests and lands were burned this year, the biggest since devastating fires in 2015 when Indonesia saw 2.6 million hectares burned, according to official figures. Officials said the spike was due to El Nino weather patterns lengthening the dry season.
The World Bank also estimated a 0.09 and 0.05 percentage points reduction in Indonesia’s economic growth in 2019 and 2020, respectively, due to the fires. Its growth forecast for Indonesia is 5 percent for 2019 and 5.1 percent for 2020.
The blazes were “manmade and have become a chronic problem annually since 1997” because fire is considered the cheapest method to prepare land for cultivation, the bank said.
Because about 44 percent of the areas burned in 2019 were in peatlands, carbon emissions from Indonesia’s fires were estimated to be almost double the emissions from the fires in the Brazilian Amazon this year.
The European Center for Medium Range Weather Forecast estimated a total of 720 megatons of CO2 emissions came from Indonesian forest fires in January-November this year.
Longer-term effects of repeated fires were not included in this estimate, the World Bank said. Repeated haze exposure would reduce health and education quality and damage the global image of palm oil — an important commodity for Indonesia.