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Duterte’s Israel trip seen to boost economic ties

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By Arjay L. Balinbin, Reporter

THE PHILIPPINE government is expected to ink up to 15 private sector agreements during President Rodrigo R. Duterte’s official visit to Israel this week, Philippine Ambassador to Israel Nathaniel G. Imperial said.

“I think the President wants to improve our economic relationship, especially the areas of trade and investment. And we expect around 13 to 15 bilateral private sector agreements to be signed. There will be a business forum for the business delegation, and the President will be keynoting this event during his visit here in Israel,” Mr. Imperial said in an interview as broadcasted by the Presidential Broadcast Staff — Radio Television Malacañang (RTVM) on Sunday, Sept. 2.

In his departure speech at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) on Sunday afternoon, Mr. Duterte said: “I leave today for 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.”

Mr. Duterte and the members of his delegation are undertaking official visits to Israel from Sept. 2 to 5 and to Jordan from Sept. 5 to 8. He noted that he will be meeting overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) in both countries during his visit. “About 28,000 Filipinos in Israel and there are 48,000 Filipinos in Jordan and you know, without mentioning anything, there’s a volatile situation there and we have to be sure that our citizens are fully protected,” he said.

With the Israeli government, Mr. Duterte said he will “seek…a robust relationship that looks forward to broader cooperation on a broad range of mutually important areas such as defense and security, law enforcement, economic development, trade [and] investments, and labor.”

As for his visit to Jordan, the President said he looks forward to discussing “ways [of] advancing cooperation in the key areas of improving defense and security, sustaining growth, addressing transnational crime, intensifying trade and investments, and enhancing labor cooperation.”

“A business delegation from different sectors of the Philippine economy will be there in order to explore the diverse trade and investment opportunities that make Jordan and Israel more tempting to offer. Of course, we will invite their business leaders to look at our own rich market potential,” he also said.

For his part, Presidential Spokesperson Harry L. Roque, Jr. said in a text message that Justice Secretary Menardo I. Guevarra, who is a former senior deputy executive secretary, will be serving as the government’s caretaker while the President is away.

Besides Mr. Roque, other members of Mr. Duterte’s delegation are Executive Secretary Salvador C. Medialdea, Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter S. Cayetano, Labor Secretary Silvestre H. Bello III, Trade Secretary Ramon M. Lopez, Environment Secretary Roy A. Cimatu, Energy Secretary Alfonso G. Cusi, National Security Adviser Hermogenes C. Esperon, Jr., Special Assistant to the President Christopher “Bong” T. Go, Presidential Adviser on Political Affairs Francis N. Tolentino, Sen. Richard J. Gordon, Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) Officer-in-Charge (OIC) Eduardo M. Año, and Philippine Coast Guard Commandant Elson E. Hermogino.

In Israel, Mr. Duterte is expected to visit significant spots such as Yad Vashem or the World Holocaust Remembrance Center and the Open Doors Monument. It will be recalled that in 2016, Mr. Duterte sparked outrage over his remarks comparing his administration’s controversial war on drugs to Adolf Hitler’s genocide of millions of Jews.