By Revin Mikhael D. Ochave and Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza, Reporters
PRESIDENT Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr. should thoroughly assess his suggestion to source fuel from Russia for potential consequences on the country’s foreign economic relations and investments, according to a business leader and analysts.
Makati Business Club Executive Director Francisco “Coco” Alcuaz, Jr. on Monday said the government must consider the long-term impact of buying Russian oil.
“Obviously we like to get cheap oil. If Russia offers that, I can understand why in the short term, that might be attractive for the President,” Mr. Alcuaz said during an interview in BusinessWorld Live on One News Channel.
“I think it is important for them (Marcos administration) to balance that with the possible long-term effects of the transaction with Russia in terms of what signal that might send to the United States and other investors about the Philippines,” he added.
Public investment analyst Terry L. Ridon said sanctions imposed by western countries on Moscow could affect the Philippines.
“Unless the sanctions regime is lifted by our major trading partners, dealing with Russian oil may have unintended consequences on Manila, as other trading partners may refuse to deal with us as a result of these transactions,” Mr. Ridon said in a Facebook Messenger chat.
“The President should tread this path carefully.”
Mr. Ridon noted that sanctions imposed on Russian commodities, organizations and individuals remain in place, and that dollar-denominated transactions with Russian entities have been severely affected by the disconnection of some Russian banks from international payment system Swift, which is widely used by financial institutions.
Last week, Mr. Marcos told a media forum that his government is open to purchasing oil and fertilizer from Russia, as the country continues to be affected by high energy prices.
Mr. Ridon warned that if the President proceeds with direct oil transactions with Moscow, the United States would likely “protest and retaliate, either through limiting aid or trade restrictions.”
“He should determine whether the level of our trade relations with Moscow is significant enough to make tradeoffs on our trade relations with countries opposed to the Russian intervention in Ukraine,” he said.
Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry President George T. Barcelon, on the other hand, said there is no problem with the efforts of Mr. Marcos to talk with Russia regarding oil supply.
“President Marcos made it clear when he spoke in New York, that he’s open to trade with countries that are beneficial to us. I see no problem (with this),” Mr. Barcelon said in a Viber message.
Energy Secretary Raphael P.M. Lotilla, meanwhile, said the President is simply “encouraging” oil firms to get supply “from the most competitive sources,” including Russia.
“Our downstream oil industry is privatized. It is in the hands of private sector but it always pays to encourage them to source from competitive sources including Russia,” Mr. Lotilla said on Monday in a briefing organized by the Economic Journalists Association of the Philippines.
Ultimately, he said, decisions will be up to the companies as the country has a deregulated oil industry. Robin Michael U. Garcia, who teaches political economy at the University of Asia and the Pacific, said Mr. Marcos’ stance “will be viewed by some as complicity to the invasion of Ukraine, but by some as a practical response to rising oil prices.”
“A concern is whether Russia will impose conditionalities on the cheap oil — will it ask us to set aside our principles and condone the war?” he said in a Messenger chat. “We have to read the fine print.”
Mr. Marcos has been calling for a peaceful settlement of the conflict between Russia and Ukraine.
“Condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and then buying goods from them would certainly diminish our standing in the international community,” policy analyst Micheal Henry Ll. Yusingco said in a Messenger chat. “Obviously, trading with Russia is not simple and straightforward.”
Mr. Yusingco said any economic engagement with Russia has to be well-planned and “thoroughly deliberated upon by our foreign policy team and the national security sector.”
“Only when there is a clear and coherent strategy in place should the President begin explaining such a move to the public,” Mr. Yusingco said. “He has to prepare the country for the possible repercussions of such a move.”
Philip Arnold “Randy” P. Tuaño, dean of the Ateneo School of Government, said Mr. Marcos appears to be responding to the immediate concern of meeting fuel needs amid rising global prices.
“I think that the President is concerned with the short-term power supply and that any shift to renewables would still be insufficient to meet the country’s immediate energy needs,” Mr. Tuaño said.
Despite its climate change talk, the Marcos government has yet to craft a clear roadmap for any shift to renewables, Mr. Tuaño said in a Viber message.
“It is imperative that the administration start crafting a transition plan to move to renewables as coal prices are still expected to move up in the long-term given uncertainties in the world market,” he said. — with Ashley Erika O. Jose