Philippines president visits Israel, will sign major agreements

Controversial President Rodrigo Duterte, the ‎first Philippine head of state to visit the State of Israel, will visit Yad Vashem and sign groundbreaking agreements in several important fields.

By: World Israel News Staff

Accompanied by a large delegation of senior politicians as well as an entourage of soldiers and police, President Rodrigo Duterte of the Republic of the Philippines arrives in Israel Sunday evening as the first-ever president of that country to visit the Jewish state.

The four-day official visit includes discussions with President Reuven Rivlin and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and a visit to Yad Vashem -World Holocaust ‎Remembrance Center and the Old City of Jerusalem.

Duterte will also meet with Israel’s large Filipino community and visit the “Open Doors” monument in Rishon Letzion, ‎which commemorates the Philippines’ rescue of Jews during the Holocaust.‎

He timed his visit in order to mark several important events, including the 80th year since the Philippines provided sanctuary to ‎Jewish refugees fleeing the Nazis and the 70th anniversary of the Philippines’ support of UN Resolution 181 – which paved the way to the establishment of the Jewish state. The Philippines was the only state in Southeast ‎Asia to vote in favor of the resolution.

The visit will also celebrate the 60th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Israel ‎and the Philippines.‎

A visit of ‘great importance’

“We assign great importance to this visit, which symbolizes the strong, warm ties between our ‎two peoples as well as the enormous potential for developing and strengthening the relations,” Israel’s Foreign Ministry stated.

“‎Cooperation between the two countries is thriving. In diplomacy, it is expressed in public ‎statements by the leadership in Manila as well as in issues important to Israel in the ‎international arena. Other areas of robust cooperation are security and combating terrorism, ‎tourism, investments, energy, infrastructures, and more,” the statement continued.

More than 150 Filipino entrepreneurs arrived with Duterte, who will lead a business seminar for heads of large companies from ‎both Israel and the Philippines. Israeli and Filipino companies are expected to sign a series ‎of agreements in the field of energy and other spheres.‎

Another main issue on the agenda is the opening of a direct flight route between ‎Manila and Tel Aviv, which would increase the number of Philippine ‎tourists coming to Israel, especially Christians making a pilgrimage to the ‎Holy Land.

Agreements and cooperation

Among the agreements and MOUs to be discussed and signed during the visit is a groundbreaking deal concerning thousands of Filipino caregivers working in Israel, which will protect the workers’ rights and regulate their employment in Israel.

“The agreement will benefit Israel’s elderly population and others in need ‎of nursing services and will have positive consequences for similar agreements to be signed ‎with other countries in the future,” the Foreign Ministry said.‎

Similarly, hotels in Israel have a shortage of workers, and the Israeli government recently decided to ‎promote agreements in this area that would include ‎bringing Filipinos to Israel to work in the industry.‎

Agreements will also be signed in the realms of science and technology, ‎promotion of investments, commerce and the ‎environment.‎

According to AFP, Duterte is also looking at Israel as market for arms.

“(The visit) is for President Duterte to look for an alternative market for… weapons for our armed forces as well as for the police,” Henelito Sevilla, an international relations expert at University of the Philippines, told AFP.

The Filipino Holocaust story

The unique story of the Philippines’ opening its gates to Jewish refugees from the Holocaust ‎will be highlighted during the visits to Yad Vashem and ‎the Open Doors monument in  Rishon Letzion. Two Holocaust ‎survivors who found refuge in the Philippines and now live in Israel will join the ceremonies.‎

Duterte drew outrage in 2016 when he compared his anti-drug campaign to the Nazi genocide of Jews in World War II and said he would be “happy to slaughter” 3 million addicts. He later apologized and made a personal appearance at Manila’s synagogue to apologize to the Jewish community.

At the end of 2017, following US President Donald Trump’s announcement that the US recognizes Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, Duterte sent an official message to Israel declaring his intention to move the Philippines embassy to Jerusalem.

However, Philippine Foreign Undersecretary Ernesto Abella told journalists at a pre-visit briefing last week that an embassy move is off the agenda for now.