Ukraine was in the headlines again after the Republican-controlled US Senate acquitted last week Republican President Donald J. Trump in an impeachment trial, allowing him to stay in office nine months before an election that could give him another four-year term at the White House.

In December, the Democrat-dominated US House of Representatives moved to impeach the unpredictable Trump, the third American leader in history to face trial, for pressuring Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden, a potential election rival, by threatening to withhold foreign aid to the former Soviet republic.

Washington has been pouring substantial military aid to Kiev after Moscow had annexed Crimea in the Black Sea, hoping to check the growing influence of its ideological rival in Eastern Europe and other independent states that were formerly part of the Soviet Union.

Last month, Kiev was dragged into another tense situation between Washington and Tehran when an American drone attack assassinated an Iranian general in Iraq. Iran responded by firing a barrage of missiles into US bases in Iraq.

As Iran was closely watching for an American retaliation, it accidentally shot down Ukraine’s flag carrier, killing all crew and passengers. The attack has drawn widespread condemnation and criticism.

In the Philippines, on the other side of the globe, Ukraine could potentially spark another controversy as it seeks closer partnership with the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), one of the fastest-growing trading blocs in the world.

Ukraine has reportedly expressed its intention to accede to Asean’s Treaty of Amity and Cooperation (TAC), a peace treaty among the 10-member Southeast Asian states signed in 1976 by the five original members of economic and geopolitical organization.

It became a requirement for five other members of ASEAN to accede to the treaty before the countries were accepted. It was amended in 1987 to open the document for accession by other state-parties outside Southeast Asia.

India and China were the first countries to accede to the TAC in 2003 and Bahrain and Germany were the last in 2019. Twenty-nine countries outside the original Asean members have subscribed to the treaty, a requirement to deepen and broaden bilateral ties between Asean and the state-parties which have become dialogue partners or development partners.

A country acceding to the TAC is required to adhere to Asean’s six key principles, including non-interference in the internal affairs, settlement of differences and disputes peacefully, renunciation of threat or use of force and freedom of every state from subversion, coercion and external interference.

It also promotes cooperation and mutual respect for the independence, sovereignty, and territorial integrity of all nations.

However, in July 1998, Asean amended the treaty to include consent of all member-states before a country is allowed to accede to the TAC and become a dialogue partner.

Ukraine will probably face an uphill climb in hurdling the accession process if the Philippines will block its application on three grounds. First, Ukraine voted in support of the Iceland’s resolution in the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) last year on a closer scrutiny of human rights situation in the Philippines.

In August last year, angered by the UNHRC resolution, Rodrigo Duterte ordered the government to cut loans and assistance from 18 countries that sided with the Iceland resolution. Ukraine is among European countries included in the ban, although the Philippines has very minimal bilateral engagements with the Eastern European country.

There is very little benefit the Philippines can derived from Ukraine in terms of trade, tourism and security. However, Ukraine has been offering to sell armored vehicles and other military hardware to the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

But, defense planners and logistics experts from the military still do not trust equipment from countries which belonged to the former Soviet Union, including Russia. The Philippines has bought rocket-propelled grenade launchers from Moscow and has accepted donations of Kalashnikov rifles and trucks as a token of friendship after Duterte’s first visit to Russia in May 2017.

Duterte’s close relations with Vladimir Putin and his strong anti-American sentiments could also work against Ukraine, which is a sworn enemy of Russia and a close ally of the United States.

Ukraine has robust relations with other Asean countries like Thailand and Indonesia, but if the Philippines objects to Ukraine’s accession to the TAC and its effort to deepen its relations with the bloc, it may not succeed.

It is not remote for the Philippines to be the spoiler in Ukraine’s bid to become a dialogue partner because of the unconventional leadership of Duterte. In 2016, during his first appearance at an Asean leaders’ summit in Laos, he broke protocols when he spoke lengthily against the United States to defend the country’s human rights record.

He did not only speak much longer than what was allowed for each leader, but he also showed historical pictures of American atrocities in the Philippines during the brief war at the turn of the 20th century and the in the pacification campaign in Muslim Mindanao.

He also skipped meetings between Asean leaders and then US President Barack Obama, whom he had cursed and lambasted for criticizing the country’s human rights situation, as well as meetings with the United Nations secretary general.

Duterte decided to skip the US-Asean special summit in Las Vegas, Nevada slated next month, after the United States government revoked the visa of a close political ally and former national police chief, Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa.

He has escalated the situation by threatening to abrogate the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with the United States, a key military-to-military arrangement that formed the four legs of the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty.

The three others are the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, allowing US access to five local bases in the country; the Mutual Logistics and Service Agreement that allows US ships and planes to refuel, resupply and make repairs in the country; and the Security Engagement Board, which covers non-traditional military cooperation like counter terrorism, narcotics control and law enforcement, and disaster response and humanitarian assistance.

Without the VFA, the other three agreements will be rendered useless.

If Duterte is ready to break the alliance with the United States despite enormous benefits from US military presence as pointed out by Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. during a Senate inquiry last week — trade, security and humanitarian assistance — he can easily scratch out Ukraine, which is also critical of the country’s human rights records.