The possibility of the Philippines moving its embassy to Jerusalem is expected to be discussed when controversial President Rodrigo Duterte comes to Israel in early September for the first ever visit by a Philippine president, diplomatic officials said Tuesday.
The Philippines was mentioned repeatedly in December as one of a handful of countries that might follow the US lead and move its embassy to Jerusalem, a rumor that was shot down by Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano later that month when he said the move had not been discussed. Nevertheless, reports about a possible move have continued to surface.The Philippines, which has a large Evangelical community, was one of 35 countries which abstained when the UN General Assembly passed a resolution in December that condemned the US for the move. Though at the time Israeli officials said that 10 countries – including the Philippines – were considering moving their embassy, so far only Guatemala and Paraguay have done so.Philippine media said Tuesday that Duterte – who has been slammed by critics for mass extrajudicial killing in his war on drugs – made clear he will go ahead with the trip to Israel and Jordan, despite having called the visit into question a few days earlier because of its high cost.The Philippines president, known for undiplomatic comments – such as comparing his desire to kill drug addicts to Hitler’s slaughter of the Jews, a comment he apologized for in a Manilla synagogue a week later – said that the last time he flew abroad he took a commercial airliner, but that this was not an option in the Mideast.“It’s expensive to be flying around. I’m having my second thoughts about going to Jordan and Israel because of the expense,” he said. “The last time, I went commercial. But they said that if we go commercial in that area, it’s not good. You get hijacked, you get hit by a guided missile, and your purpose was just to visit Netanyahu and pray to God.”He added, according to the Philippine media, that he was ready to die if he is assured “a place beside Jesus Christ.” Duterte is scheduled to visit from September 3-5.The Philippines PTV News quoted Duterte’s special assistant Christopher Lawrence Go as saying that Duterte’s visit could help his country in its war against terrorism. “Israel could help us big time [with] their capability on anti-terrorism,” Go said.The Philippine government has been fighting terrorist groups identified with Islamic State in the south for months.Go said that Duterte will also meet with Filipino workers in Israel. Duterte said Tuesday that there are some 28,000 such workers in Israel and 48,000 in Jordan.
PM Netanyahu speaking at the deditcation ceremony for the Jerusalem US embassy, May 14, 2018 (GPO)