Controversial Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte arrived in Israel on Sunday for a four-day visit, to celebrate the relationship between his country and the Jewish state. Duterte is the first president of the Philippines to visit Israel since diplomatic ties were established in 1958.
He is scheduled to commemorate the 80-year anniversary of his country’s admission of some 1,300 Jewish refugees from Europe at the start of World War II with a wreath laying at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial Museum; the 70-year anniversary of the Philippines’ support for the 1947 UN Partition Plan–as the only Southeast Asian state to support the establishment of the State of Israel; and an event marking the 60-year anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the Philippines and Israel.
A statement set forth by Israel’s Foreign Ministry welcomed Duterte as a representative of a country with which Israel enjoys “robust cooperation” in “security and combating terrorism, tourism, investments, energy, infrastructures, and more.”
The Philippines has maintained what has been perceived as a pro-Israel stance in the international arena, abstaining in several Israel-related votes at the UN and buying $21 million in radar and anti-tank systems from Israeli military industries.
Duterte is arriving with a large retinue, including his ministers of defense, foreign affairs, trade and industry, agriculture, internal security, labor and employment, science and technology, tourism and transportation, as well as senior senators, army officials and retiring police officers.
Issues to be discussed during the visit will include moving the Philippines’ embassy to Jerusalem, a direct flight route from Manila to Tel Aviv that may possibly fly over Saudi Arabian airspace, and an agreement to regulate employment of an estimated 28,000 Filipino care-workers in Israel, in an accord which would protect workers’ rights, ensure fair and equal treatment, and cut through fees workers have been made to pay to agents.
Duterte is considered a highly-controversial leader, who has sparked outrage with a statement Thursday suggesting that rape would continue as long as there are beautiful women, as well as a previous statement in which he compared his war on drugs to Hitler’s war against the Jews, a remark for which he subsequently apologized.