Russia, the Philippines, and a New Era of Friendship and Cooperation

By ERIC GABRIEL M. ALONG

NEU President Nilo Rosas and Russian Ambassador to the Philippines, His Excellency Igor Khovaev, together with officials and entourage, enter the main lobby of the university. (Image Source: Eagle News Service)

IT WAS 1808. The Manila Bay was alive with commerce brought by the galleon trade between Manila and Acapulco, Mexico. At that harbor was a ship from China bearing an Irish-American businessman and writer named Peter Dobell. He came to the Philippines with a plan—establish the relations between the Russian Far East, Canton, and Manila. Nine years later, his vision was realized by the Russian Emperor Alexander I—Dobell was appointed as the Consul General in the Philippines in 1817.

            Russia’s first diplomatic mission in Manila was unrecognized by the Spanish colonial government. Although foreign consuls were unpermitted in colonies, Peter Dobell was allowed to be an unofficial representative. The Russian consul, now naturalized as Petr Vasilievich Dobel, struggled gravely. The Spanish officials blocked his trade initiatives, left him inactive, and looked at him as a spy. His compound was even vandalized and looted during a riot in Manila. Dobel returned to Russia shortly afterward, and the Consulate was terminated in 1826. It was eventually revived only to be led by French “freelance” consuls until the 1917 October Revolution in Russia. Since then, there were no diplomatic ties between Russia and the Philippines.

            In the following decades, the world suffered an economic recession and the Second World War. Shortly after the global conflict ended, the Chinese Civil War sparked again. The Russian migrants caught up in the fight appealed to the International Refugee Office to flee. Only the Philippines, still four years old as a fully independent nation, accepted them under the presidency of Elpidio Quirino in 1949. The displaced Russians lived in Guiuan, Eastern Samar, where the locals treated them with Filipino hospitality and love.

            The latter half of the 20th century was marked by the ideological battle between the United States of America (USA) and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). As the Vietnam War came to an end, the Philippines finally had the opportunity to establish relations with the Soviet Union. On June 2, 1976, former President Ferdinand Marcos conducted the first official visit to the USSR, starting the formal diplomatic ties between the Philippines and the Soviet Union. Agreements on trade, commerce, industry, and cooperation were signed by former President Marcos and the then Soviet Communist Party Leader Leonid Brezhnev. Even after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the Philippines continued its bilateral agreements with the Russian Federation. Filipino migration to Russia increased by the thousands in the new century, and the decades that followed saw the two governments foster their diplomatic, cultural, and commercial bilateral agreements. 

            President Rodrigo Duterte’s policy on international relations caught recent headlines across the world. In the words of Russian Ambassador to the Philippines His Excellency Igor Khovaev, during the administration of President Duterte, the Philippines and Russia conduded more documents on bilateral cooperation in different fields than the previous 40 years. Since 2016, the Philippine government has ordered military trucks, helicopters, arms, and equipment from Russia. The two nations also bolstered their multimillion-dollar cooperation in space research, intelligence, agriculture, and humanitarian aid. Amid these achievements in Russia-Philippine relations, New Era University (NEU) contributed dutifully to international diplomacy. Other than hosting ambassador and diplomat visitations, NEU took part in the 2016 and 2017 Russia-ASEAN University Forum in Vladivostok and welcomed Russian businessmen and academicians visiting the Philippines. This culminated on May 14, 2018, with another historic feat: NEU signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Moscow State Institute for International Relations (known as MGIMO). The latter, which is hailed as the “Harvard of Russia,” signed its first agreement with a private organization from the Philippines—it was NEU. The MOU was inked towards academic collaboration, cultural promotion, and exchange programs between NEU and MGIMO.

            Just a few months after the signing, on September 7, the University was visited by Dr. Victor Sumsky, a leading

expert in ASEAN-related studies from MGIMO. During the forum, he discussed the Cold War in light of current events. The University Hall was filled by the NEU community and delegates from leading universities in the Philippines, the Philippine Council for Foreign Relations, and the Philippine Navy. Then, on March 27, 2019, Ambassador Igor Khovaev visited the University and declared, “It’s time for Russia to discover the Philippines and it’s time for Filipinos to discover Russia. …We Russians and Filipinos have a lot in common and so we deserve to be friends.”

            With the same purpose, NEU musicians performed in the 2019 Russia Day celebration at the Makati Shangri­ La. They rendered Russian songs to the international guests on the evening of June 7. The following day, two internationally acclaimed musicians from the Tchaikovsky Moscow State Conservatory graced the NEU community at the University Hall. Mr. Ivan Koshcheev and Mr. Kyrill Komarov presented a repertoire featuring the masterpieces of Russian composers. It was a meaningful encounter between two cultures that value a similar love for music.

            In the first months of 2020, the relationship between Russia and the Philippines grew even stronger—and New Era University is a part of this robust friendship. In the first-ever celebration of the Russian Armed Forces Day in the Philippines on February 24, the NEU Glee Club was invited to perform. NEU also launched and campaigned the “Russian Language for Beginners” and the “Russian Language for Businessmen and Executives” programs.

            Since the day Peter Dobell set foot on the shores of Manila two centuries ago, his outlook of a partnership between Russia and the Philippines eventually came true. But it was not only his foresight that was realized. We know by heart the vision of our University—to be “a world-class institution of learning with a unique Christian culture of excellence, discipline, and service to humanity.” We behold its fulfillment as NEU bridges the love and hospitality shared by the Russian and Filipino cultures. Now, let us march towards a new era of friendship and cooperation between Russia and the Philippines