Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte arrived in Israel on Sunday, where a senior Likud MK recommended taking an anti-nausea pill to stomach the visit, the opposition leader said the trip should be kept “low profile,” and a protest is planned for his meeting Tuesday with President Reuven Rivlin.
The controversial Duterte is known primarily for a ruthless war on drugs in his country – with critics saying the government has executed thousands of people – and for a series of undiplomatic quotes, including one Thursday when he said that rape will continue as long as there are more beautiful women.
“It would have been more comfortable to receive a president here who had not made the kinds of comments we have heard, and it might be that we have to take a pill against nausea to receive him. In any event he is here, and we cannot ignore it,” Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee chairman Avi Dichter said on Kan Bet radio.
Opposition leader Tzipi Livni (Zionist Union) called Duterte a “very problematic person,"
and said in a radio interview that the four-day visit should be “very low profile.”
And Tag Meir, an NGO that defines its mission as battling racism and supporting democratic values, is organizing the protest against Duterte.
The group, which sent a letter to Rivlin asking him not to meet Duterte, said the president of the Philippines is a “racist and antisemite who is suspected of murder and other grave crimes.” The group said that its calls to Rivlin “not to meet this man or give his acts or statements legitimacy went unanswered.”
Since taking office in June 2016, Duterte has taken 16 trips abroad, including three visits to China, two to Japan and Singapore, and visits to India, Peru, Russia, Japan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and South Korea.
Duterte was scheduled to begin his four-day visit here with a speech to hundreds of the estimated 28,000 Filipinos working in the country, some 24,000 of them believed to be working in the care professions.
He was greeted at Ben-Gurion Airport by Communications Minister Ayoub Kara.
The president, at the airport in Manila before setting off, said concern for their welfare and for the welfare of Filipino workers in Jordan – where he will visit on Wednesday – was a major reason for his visit.
“We have about 28,000 Filipinos [in Israel] and 48,000 in Jordan. Without mentioning anything, there is a volatile situation – and we have to be sure our citizens are fully protected,” he said.
Duterte, who said the Philippines supports a two-state solution, added: “With more than two million Filipinos working in that region [the Middle East], I intend to emphasize the great importance that the Philippines attaches to maintaining peace and stability there.”
This will be the first ever visit to Israel and Jordan by a Philippine president, and Duterte said they are “landmark visits that underscore our vision for our country – a responsible member of the world community – a Philippines that is a friend to all and an enemy to no one.”
He said he wanted to have a “robust relationship” with Israel in a number of fields, including defense and security, law enforcement, economic development, trade and investment.
The Manila Times reported that Duterte is considering buying equipment from Israel for the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG).
Special Assistant to the President Christopher Lawrence Go said the head of the coast guard and other PCG officials will be among the 400-person delegation Duterte is bringing to Israel. He said the government has allocated the equivalent of $56 million for new equipment – such as ships, patrol boats and weaponry.
Israel began selling military equipment to the Philippines, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, in 2015 – a year before Duterte took office – when it sold $6 million worth of weapons to the southeast Asian country. That number dropped to $4m. in 2016, but went up to $21m. in 2017.
In addition to defense issues, The Manila Bulletin reported last week that the Israeli firm Ratio Oil Exploration Ltd. is expected to sign an oil exploration deal for a license in Philippine waters.
Ratio Oil Exploration holds a 15% share in the Leviathan gas field off of Israel’s coast, and has a number of licenses for exploration in other areas of the world. The deal with the Philippines has been in the works for some three years, and is awaiting a green light from Duterte.
Duterte is scheduled to meet Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday, followed by a visit to Yad Vashem.
In 2016, Duterte caused outrage when he compared his war against drugs to Hitler’s war against the Jews. He quickly apologized for that comment in a speech at a Manila synagogue, saying he did not mean to dishonor the memory of the Jews killed in the Holocaust, noting that his first wife of 25 years, Elizabeth Zimmerman, is a Jewish American.
Join Jerusalem Post Premium Plus now for just $5 and upgrade your experience with an ads-free website and exclusive content. Click here>>