Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte flies to Russia on May 22 to meet President Vladimir Putin and strengthen ties, part of an apparent effort to steer his nation's foreign policy course further away from the United States, Manila's longtime ally.
Philippine Foreign Affairs Assistant Secretary Maria Cleofe Natividad said the highlight of the trip will be Duterte's May 25 meeting with Putin, whom he has called his "favorite hero." He has also suggested he and Putin share passions such as guns and hunting.
The five-day trip could cement a dramatic improvement in ties between the two nations since Duterte came to power last year and began unravelling the Philippines' decades-long alliances with the United States, which he accuses of hypocrisy and bullying.
"We believe it will mark a new chapter in the Philippines-Russia relations," Natividad told reporters in Manila last week.
"We consider this visit as a landmark that will send a strong message of the Philippines' commitment to seek new partnerships and strengthen relations with nontraditional partners such as Russia," she said.
Natividad said the president's visit is part of his vow to pursue an independent foreign policy by strengthening the Philippines' ties with Russia and China, two of the strongest rivals of the United States.
But so far, Duterte has not made good on threats to cancel treaties with the United States which have permitted U.S. military bases and forces to be located within the country.
Putin extended an invitation to Duterte to visit at an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Peru in November.