Philippine President Kicks off Official Israel Visit

Philippine President Kicks off Official Israel Visit

Monday, 3 September, 2018 - 12:00
Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu (R) shakes hands with Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte during their meeting in Jerusalem September 3, 2018. (Reuters)
Asharq Al-Awsat
Controversial Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte kicked off on Monday a four-day official visit to Israel, where he was warmly welcomed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The two leaders oversaw the signing of three agreements in trade, science and care-giving. Tourism, labor and defense deals are also on Duterte’s agenda.

Netanyahu highlighted the countries' long friendship, how the Philippines took in Jewish refugees after World War II and was the only Asian nation to vote for Israel's establishment.

"We remember our friends and that friendship has blossomed over the years and especially over the last few years," Netanyahu told Duterte.

Israel’s Government Press Office has said most of the visit will be closed to the media, an apparent precaution against faux pas by a president whose two-fisted crime-fighting tactics and rhetoric have raised hackles at home and abroad.

Duterte has been accused of condoning human rights abuses in his deadly drug crackdown and has made controversial comments about the Holocaust.

He 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.

Official Philippine police tallies place the number of suspects killed in police-led anti-drug raids at more than 4,500 since Duterte took office in June 2016. International human rights watchdogs have cited far higher death tolls.

Duterte, a 73-year-old former government prosecutor, denies condoning extrajudicial killings but has openly threatened drug dealers with death.

“There’s just no knowing what he will say from one moment to the next, so both sides want to keep this (Israel) visit as low-key as possible,” one official involved in the planning, and who asked not to be identified by name or nationality, told Reuters.

Ernesto Abella, an official with the Foreign Ministry in Manila and a former Duterte spokesman, said the issue of moving the Philippine embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, as the United States did in May, had not been discussed.

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