Russian/Philippine Cooperation Should be a Two-Way Street That Leads to Syria

With the scandal of Kuwaiti employers abusing and in some cases killing their Filipino employees, Philippine Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III has established a working group that will investigate the efficacy of partnering with Russia in a programme to give Filipino workers access to the Russian labour market as a preferable substitute to the Gulfi Arab states that have become notorious for abusing foreign workers whether from South Asia, Africa or South East Asia.

On the 28th of March this year, I wrote the following on the potential for greater cooperation between Moscow and Manila across a variety of fields:

“The Philippines should also consider using the weak PHP to partner with Russia. Tourism is an easy way to attract injections of Russian cash and promoting The Philippines as a top year round South East Asian destination for Russians can be done in a simple and cost effective manner. As Russians are always eager for English teachers to work on Russian soil, one could easily envisage an exchange programme where Filipinos with the right educational credentials can easily work in Russia as English teachers, while Russian speakers can come as seasonal or part time workers in The Philippines to work at resorts catering to Russian tourists.

But in the longer term, The Philippines should sign a free trade agreement with the Russian led Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU). The diversity of the topography and climates of Eurasia vis-a-vis The Philippines automatically means that agricultural goods from The Philippines would be a valued commodity throughout the EAEU. Furthermore, just as is the case with China, countries from the EAEU, most notably Russia, would also be able to help The Philippines develop its own industrial economy which could pay substantial dividends in the long term future”.

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Far from just suggesting an agreement for Russia to allow overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) into the labour market, the two countries can work on a host of bilateral connectivity agreements which would ultimately encourage Russian investment in Philippine industry, the marketing of The Philippines as a go-to warm weather destination for Russian tourists, the hiring of Filipino English language teachers in Russia and also the presence of Filipino workers in post-conflict Syria.

It is in Syria where Filipino workers could most overtly prove their importance to Russia and Russia’s partners and it is also an area where The Philippines and Russia could form an important relationship based on mutual respect. Such a cooperative initiative could also help to further improve Manila’s relationship with Beijing that has begun to flourish under the reforms of President Duterte.

As the wretched conflict in Syria nears an end, Damascus has begun signing multiple contracts for post-war re-development with the governments and private sectors in China, Russia and Iran. However, due to the scale of the re-building necessary, Syria’s post-war partners will likely require a large workforce to see that Syria’s re-development progresses in a rapid and efficient fashion.

Here, Filipino workers could play a vital role in skilled and manual capacities to help with the re-construction of a country that has long been torn apart by foreign funded violence. What’s more is that as construction begins, it will likely be the Russian military along with the Syrian Arab Army that will be the primary guarantors of safety for any and all foreign workers. Such an enthronement could also facilitate further cooperation in anti-terrorist training by Russia and others for Philippine forces who themselves have to content with insurgent groups like Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) and the NPA.

The Philippines has a large population that includes a youth workforce eager for economic opportunities. Most post-war jobs in Syria will likely be high paying because the stakes are clearly high, but the ability of Russia, Syria and Iran working together to maintain the peace means that ultimately, Syria will return to being a safe country and one whose tolerant, pluralist ancient Mediterranean culture is vastly more civilised and welcoming than the inward looking culture of the Gulfi states.

With Filipino workers building a post-war Syria alongside their local, Chinese, Russian and Iranian counterparts, it would help The Philippines to connect with cultures that it has historically been remote from and in turn, build new trust based relations that could mean more bilateral activities for all partners in future projects. Furthermore, with the image of the Arab world as a whole tarnished in many Philippine eyes by the characteristics of Gulfi Arabs, it could be a positive experience for Filipinos to experience the very different Levantine Arab world, where foreigners are treated with respect and hospitality, rather than as slaves. For those who have any doubts, most Syrians have even more negative feelings about Gulfis than the Filipinos as it is the leading Gulf Cooperation Council states who have funded the terrorists who for years have been attempting to destroy the Syrian Arab Republic.

The result of Russia and The Philippines working with one another and cooperating on re-building Syria can be a win-win situation for all parties involved and could expand many economic, cultural and security horizons for decades to come.

To accomplish this, politicians in both Moscow and Manila must think ‘outside the box’ and embrace new partnerships to accomplish meaningful and important multilateral tasks. Such agreements have many upsides and no foreseeable downsides. There is no reason therefore, not to intensify diplomatic contacts regarding these issues as soon as possible.

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