ILOILO CITY — Israeli Ambassador to the Philippines Rafael Harpaz visited Iloilo earlier this week to explore cooperation opportunities in line with its goal to strengthen ties with the Philippine through local partnerships in the regions.

In an interview following his meeting with Iloilo City Mayor Jose S. Espinosa III, Mr. Harpaz said they want to “widen their relations with the organizations and cities across the nation”.

“Our purpose is to deepen and widen our relations with Iloilo. We also want to explore and learn first what you have to offer as well as bring more Israelis here and also bring more Filipinos to Israel,” Mr. Harpaz added.

He cited technology, agriculture, and fisheries as the potential sectors for partnerships.

“There are a lot of areas that we can discuss… We can deepen our cooperation in technologies… It’s something that we want to widen and share our experiences with you,” he said.

Mr. Espinosa, for his part, said he wants the barangays to learn from Israel’s kibbutz, a collective community traditionally rooted in agriculture.

“I want the barangays to become self-sustaining. In Israel, they have this area called kibbutz… They have their system to make their villages self-sustaining. Imagine if we can get insights from them. For one, their hydroponics system promote agriculture without using soil. They have perfected it already,” the mayor said.

“Imagine if we can do something similar here in Iloilo City and develop some sort of independence and ingenuity, then barangays don’t need to depend on the city government and their internal revenue allotment (from the national government),” he added.

The Israeli envoy also said there are employment opportunities for Filipino caregivers and tourism sector workers in their country.

“We need more caregivers. You have wonderful people or Ilonggos as you call them. We need them to come,” he said, noting that there are already a significant number of Filipinos caregivers in Israel.

“I would also like to thank the Philippines because we have so many caregivers from the Philippines, including from Iloilo, that takes care of our beloved parents and grandparents… We treat them well, they have their restaurants, churches, they get paid well and it’s something very important to us,” Mr. Harpaz said.

In the tourism sector, he said, “We are soon going to open opportunities for Filipinos… We signed a government-to-government agreement after President Rodrigo Duterte went to Israel, but I think it is still in the process of ratification,” he added.

Mr. Duterte went on a four-day state visit to Israel in September 2018.

With a population of just nine million, Mr. Harpaz said Israel needs more people who willhandle tourists in the Holy Land sites.

“We had 4.2 million tourists last year but we have only nine million people so who will take care of the tourists? … Our agreement is still in the process of ratification but I think the first 2,000 Filipinos can work in tourism and they can also visit as tourists,” he said.

On his impression of Iloilo City, the Israeli ambassador said he was impressed by the heritage buildings and wants to come back in January for the Dinagyang, Iloilo’s biggest annual festival.

“When I first came, I saw the architecture. I am inspired to come back here in January to witness your fiesta. The city has an amazing culture and it is something that we want to get more in Israel. It’s also a smoke-free city, which is very important,” he said. — Emme Rose S. Santiagudo