Israel is helping the Philippines win its war on terrorism, the country’s president Rodrigo Duterte told President Reuven Rivlin on Tuesday, echoing comments he made a day earlier to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
While in comments alongside Netanyahu he made reference to “equipment” Israel provided that allowed his government to defeat Islamic State-affiliated fighters in a five-month battle for the southern city of Marawi, alongside Rivlin he spoke of intelligence that Israel provided.
“My order to my military [is] that in terms of military equipment, particularly intelligence gathering, we only have one country to buy from, that is my order, specifically Israel,” Duterte said.
He said that weapons purchased from the US, China and Germany come with restraints, but that he did not see why that would be a problem with Israel.
“America is a good friend but you know, if he would sell you something, he would also be listening. And so with China and everybody else, Germany,” he said. Last month Duterte claimed during a speech that the CIA was tapping his phone and wanted to kill him. In that same speech, he also said “Russia, China, Israel and maybe Indonesia” were also listening to his conversations.
Israel’s arms sales to the Philippines totaled $21 m. in 2017, $4 m. in 2016, and $6 m. in 2015, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) that tracks global arms sales. Human rights activists say that among the weapons were assault weapons used in Duterte’s war on drugs, a war that critics say has left as many as 12,000 people killed.
“With the worldwide terrorism now, it behooves upon Israel and the Philippines to cooperate more than ever to defeat one enemy which I think could never disappear within the next 10 years,” Duterte said, adding that it is going to be “a long, long ride.”
Rivlin told Duterte that both Israel and the Philippines are trying to protect their people against fundamentalism and terrorism.
“We are cooperating with every country that is trying to do the same to protect their own people and to carry the burden of security. And we do that with the idea and the values that we are holding, the values of democracy and the human rights,” he said.
Netanyahu Meets President of the Philippines Duterte, September 2, 2018 (GPO)
Rivlin, in his comments, noted that the ties between Israel and the Philippines precede Israel’s independence, when the Philippines took in Jewish refugees fleeing Hitler’s Germany.
Hitler, Rivlin said, represented “the devil himself, he was the devil on earth.”
Two years ago Duterte – in his war on narcotics – likened himself to Hitler, saying that just as Hitler massacred Jews, he would be happy to “slaughter” three million drug addicts. He promptly apologized for those comments at a Manila synagogue.
As he did during his meeting the day earlier with Netanyahu, during the meeting with Rivlin Duterte again introduced his daughter, Sara, whose Jewish grandfather fled Germany and found refuge in the Philippines. He also said that Filipinos and Israelis have much in common, including reading the Bible.
A few dozen demonstrators protested Duterte’s visit near the President’s Residence, holding up placards that read “Stop the Killings” over a picture of Duterte grasping an automatic rifle.
In addition, the CEO of NUFiltaration, Mino Negrin, wrote a letter to the Foreign Ministry declining to take part in a business forum with Duterte held on Tuesday with 150 Filipino businessmen, and an equal number of Israeli businessmen.
“We are not willing to participate in an event which will be held” with Duterte, the letter read, stating that Duterte “offended our people” by comparing himself to Hitler.
“We know and cherish the collaboration between the Philippines and Israel but under no circumstances we will give legitimacy to such an offense, regardless of the position of our government,” the letter stated.
Meretz head Tamar Zandberg sent a letter to Netanyahu on Tuesday demanding the full itinerary of Duterte’s visit here, including visits – unlisted in the official schedule put out by the Foreign Ministry – of any visits to army bases or weapons exhibitions.
Zandberg wrote that it was it was worrying that Duterte’s security forces are using Israeli rifles in their war against drugs. “For this reason, reports that Duterte will visit a weapons exhibition are very worrisome,” she wrote. “This could place Israel in a position where it is a partner in crimes against humanity carried out by Duterte in his country.”
There are significant holes in Duterte’s schedule here, leading to a great deal of speculation, including that he may be undergoing medical treatment here, touring an army base or visiting an arms exhibition.
Duterte came to power in mid 2016. According to SIPRI, in 2016-2017 Indonesia was the largest weapons supplier to the Philippines, with $180 million in sales, followed by South Korea ($168 m.), the US ($104 m.), Israel ($25 m.), Spain ($12 m.) and Australia ($10 m).
Duterte is scheduled to leave for Jordan on Wednesday, after taking part in a memorial ceremony at the “Open Doors” monument in Rishon Lezion. The sculpture by Filipino artist Luis “Junyee” Yee Jr. honors the Philippines for opening its doors to 1,300 Jewish refugees from the Holocaust.