PHILIPPINE President Rodrigo R. Duterte on Monday night said he would hold a special meeting with Cabinet and security officials to discuss the local implications of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Some businessmen and civilians would also join the meeting, he told a taped Cabinet meeting.
“We will discuss about what is evolving, what is happening in Europe,” the tough-talking leader said. “I want you to listen to how important it is for you to know what is happening now.”
“The invitation is for all so that we can have an exchange of ideas between the military and police on one hand, and businessmen, so we can come up with a sensible front of how to handle this thing,” he added.
Russia has launched a devastating attack by air, land and sea on Ukraine, a European democracy of 44 million people, and its forces were on the outskirts of the capital, Kyiv. President Vladimir Putin denied for months he would invade his neighbor, but then tore up a peace deal and sent forces across borders in Ukraine’s north, east and south.
The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) on Monday night said the Philippines had voted yes to a United Nations General Assembly resolution and expressed “explicit condemnation” of the Russian attack on Ukraine. It sought an end to the fighting and appealed for the protection of civilians and civilian infrastructure.
“We strongly urge the cessation of hostilities; but while an offense can be stopped at will, the defense cannot rest until the offense stops,” it said.
“Our plea in the plenary would really be to join the call for restraint and to deescalate the violence there,” Mr. Duterte said.
Mr. Duterte has appointed Cabinet Secretary Karlo Alexei B. Nograles as the sole spokesman to discuss what will happen at the meeting.
Mr. Nograles told a news briefing on Tuesday they had not decided whether to air the meeting live on television because it’s a sensitive topic. The presidential palace was also concerned about its national security implications.
“At the end of the meeting, we will issue a statement to apprise the people,” he said. “What’s important is the president’s instruction to make sure all Filipinos are aware of the situation, what’s happening in Europe, particularly Ukraine, and its implication to the country, Filipinos and the economy,” he said in mixed English and Filipino.
Meanwhile, Senator Aquilino “Koko” L. Pimentel III, who heads the foreign relations committee, said he agrees with the government condemnation of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, but said the Philippines should stay neutral on the Eastern European nation’s application for membership at the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).
“For the sake of the children, women and elderly, I agree that military operations must immediately be stopped by Russia and all others involved,” he told reporters in a Viber message.
“But on the main issue itself, like Ukraine’s application for NATO membership and Russia’s response to it, we should in the meantime be neutral pending deeper study of the issue and the root causes of Russia-Ukraine disputes by our experts in the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA),” he added.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky last month pleaded that his country be admitted to NATO so that the 30-member intergovernmental alliance, which consists of 28 European and two North American countries, could provide military assistance.
NATO on Monday said it would provide Ukraine with air defense missiles and anti-tank weapons after NATO Chief Jens Stoltenberg held another call with Mr. Zelensky. The alliance and the United States earlier said they would not send forces to fight alongside Ukraine.
DFA on Monday echoed the appeal of the UN secretary-general to respect humanitarian principles. “Safe access to humanitarian assistance must be assured by the most effective means.”
All states enjoy the right to full sovereignty in all their areas of jurisdiction, the Philippines said, citing the UN Charter.
“We especially condemn the use of separatism and secession as a weapon of diplomacy for inviting and inflicting terrible cruelties and indiscriminate killings far in excess of that of any other kind of conflict,” the Philippines said, alluding to Russia’s deployment of troops in two breakaway regions in Ukraine.
Meanwhile, presidential aspirant and Senator Panfilo M. Lacson, Sr., who had argued against neutrality, said he expected the Philippines’ official condemnation of the Russian invasion.
“I knew it was forthcoming because it was the right thing to do and the UN Charter says it,” he tweeted on Tuesday.
“I was surprised the others in the CNN debate didn’t see it that way,” he added, referring three presidential bets who agreed the Philippines should stay neutral.
During the CNN Philippines debate, Mr. Lacson said the country has an obligation to condemn a foreign aggressor and renounce war as a UN member.
He also saluted the Ukrainian president whom he called a “living hero” for standing with his soldiers amid a war, ready to die for his people. “That is the real leader.” — Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza and Alyssa Nicole O. Tan