Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte delivers his State of the Nation address at the House of Representatives in Quezon city, Metro Manila, Philippines July 23, 2018.
(photo credit: REUTERS/CZAR DANCEL)
When controversial Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte landed in Tel Aviv on Sunday to begin his four-day visit to Israel, he was accompanied by a large delegation of Filipino ministers and businessmen eager to take advantage of the visit to pen deals and increase trade between the two countries.
Ministers of foreign affairs, trade and industry, agriculture, science and technology, labor and employment, and tourism and transportation, as well as more than 150 Filipino businessmen make up almost half of Duterte’s 400-strong delegation, making it clear that the focus is on striking business deals, in addition to expected arms sales, during the presidential visit.
“Arriving with the president of the Philippines will be a large business delegation and, during the visit, the president will chair a business seminar in which the heads of major companies from both countries will participate,” said a Foreign Ministry statement ahead of Duterte’s arrival.
“A host of agreements between Israeli and Filipino companies will be signed during the visit, including in the energy sector.”
One of the rumored key beneficiaries of the visit, according to the Manila Bulletin
, will be Ratio Oil Exploration Ltd., a Tel Aviv-based gas and oil exploration, development and production company which is only a presidential signature away from gaining exclusive rights to a large, lucrative area off the Philippine coast.
In 2015, Ratio Oil proved victorious in a tender published by the Philippines’ Department of Energy to explore 4,160 square kilometers of deep water off the northeast coast of the Philippine’s Palawan province.
The agreement, three years later, is pending Duterte’s approval.
Should the deal be finalized, Ratio Oil will gain access to an area potentially capable of producing an estimated 1.2 billion barrels of oil and 2.1b. cubic feet of gas.
According to the Bulletin, the Philippine’s largest newspaper, Philippine Energy Undersecretary Donato D. Marcos revealed to the newspaper that Ratio Oil had informed the Department of Energy and the presidential residence, Malacañang Palace, of its readiness to finalize the exploration agreement.
The Israeli company has also reportedly stated its willingness to abide by a major pending international arbitration tribunal decision following a dispute between the Filipino government and Shell Philippines regarding corporate income tax payments.
The Duterte administration plans to award at least a further nine petroleum service contracts during its current term, which runs until 2022.
In addition to Ratio Oil’s rights in the Philippine block, the company also possesses rights to exploration blocks in Ireland, Malta, Guyana and Suriname, amounting to approximately 30,000 sq. km. of territory.
In 2010, Ratio discovered the Leviathan deep-water natural gas reservoir about 130 km. west of the northern Israeli port city of Haifa and today holds a 15% working interest in the field.
Potentially starting gas production as early as next year, Leviathan is Israel’s largest energy project to date and promises to both boost domestic energy supplies and serve as an export outlet to Israel’s neighbors. A fifteen-year export deal has already been signed with the Jordanian National Electric Power Company (NEPCO).
Other business matters set to be discussed during Duterte’s visit include the possibility of boosting Filipino tourism by launching direct flights from the Philippine capital Manila to Tel Aviv as well as agreements regarding the continued employment of some 28,000 Filipino nationals working in Israel as care givers.