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Duterte denies Russia trip was 'junket'

MANILA, Philippines – President Rodrigo Duterte defended the presence of a multitude of security officials during his trip to Russia, denying it was a "junket."

"Everyone was there because we were discussing arms and trade," said Duterte on Thursday, June 29, during a speech in front of Davao City police.

He even said the trip was worth the cost because the government bagged "P9 billion [in] ready-made transactions." (READ: PH, Russia sign defense agreement, 9 other deals)

Duterte was reacting to a statement by former president Fidel Ramos that his visit to Russia was only a waste of money. 

Duterte admitted he brought along "retiring" police and military officials to take them on a leisurely trip. 

"I invited 'yung mag-retire, 'yun na lang mga military pati pulis na mag-retire, I invited them along. Ano ba naman 'yan, libre naman, tutal pareho ang bayad ko?" he said. 

(I invited the military and police who are about to retire. I invited them along. What is the problem since it is free and I would've paid the same amount anyway?)

The President reasoned that since he chartered an entire 370-seater Philippine Airlines flight, it would make no difference if he invited more people to ride with him. 

"Ang bayad ko sa eroplano, ke ako lang mag-isa doong pasahero o punuin ko ng tao, pareho lang," he said.

(My payment for the airplane, whether I'm the lone passenger or I fill it with people, it's the same.)

It's unclear, however, if the government also footed the bill for the hotel rooms and other expenses of these security officials.

Unlike a seat in the presidential plane, these costs would end up bloating the government's total expenses. 

Duterte's 'thank you'

Inviting the police and soldiers was apparently Duterte's way of expressing gratitude for their years of service.

"Sabi ko, 'You come with me because 'yan lang rin ang paraan na mapakita ko sa inyo na this is also a nation who has the gratitude for you. Sumama kayo, sama ninyo asawa ninyo, ipasyal ko kayo,'" he said.

(I said, "You come with because that's my way of showing you that this nation has gratitude for you. You come, bring your wife, I'll show you around.") 

Security officials who were in Moscow include Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr, Armed Forces of the Philippines chief General Eduardo Año, Philippine National Police chief Ronald dela Rosa, and Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao Police Regional Director Reuben Theodore Sindac. There were supposedly several more police and military officers present.

At least two, Dela Rosa and Sindac, brought along their wives. (READ: Dela Rosa on Russia trip: We didn't know 'exact date' of Marawi terror plot)

The presence of all these security officials in Russia became controversial also because it was during that trip when clashes in Marawi City erupted between terrorists and government forces. (READ: Dela Rosa admits 'law enforcement failure' in Marawi)

Sindac is the top cop in ARMM, the region where Marawi is located.

The clashes prompted Duterte to declare martial law in the entire Mindanao while in Moscow. He cut short his trip to return home.

In his Thursday speech, Duterte admitted he was already warned of the buildup of men in Marawi City even before he boarded his flight to Russia. (READ: AFP defends officials' Russia trip despite advance info on Marawi)

"Before I left for Russia, I was already told there was already a massing of troops per intelligence report, but I did not expect they had that many bullets. Where did they get them?" the President said.

Other non-security-related personalities seen in Moscow were actors Phillip Salvador and Robin Padilla. It's unclear if the government shouldered their expenses.

Businessmen who participated in the trip footed their own bills, according to Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez.

Rappler's Freedom of Information (FOI) request for the list of expenses and members of Duterte's delegation during the Russia visit was denied by Malacañang on June 16 because they supposedly did not have the information.

FACT CHECK: Pres. Spox Abella says Rappler's FOI request on cost of Russia, China trips wasn't denied. Wrong. It was denied, see below. pic.twitter.com/KmdaBzoRTK — Pia Ranada (@piaranada) June 22, 2017

 

Malacañang also cited the case of Valmonte v. Belmonte Jr to prove that Duterte's FOI Executive Order does not "compel custodians of official records to prepare lists."

Rappler found that Duterte spent thrice more than his predecessors on foreign trips in the first year of his presidency. – Rappler.com

Pia Ranada

Pia Ranada covers the Office of the President and Bangsamoro regional issues for Rappler. While helping out with desk duties, she also watches the environment sector and the local government of Quezon City. For tips or story suggestions, you can reach her at pia.ranada@rappler.com.

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