By Luis Liwanag
President Rodrigo Duterte will depart for a trip to Israel and Jordan next week, the first for a Philippine leader, a foreign department official said Thursday, in a state visit that will take place a year after an embarrassing remark in which Duterte appeared to compare his deadly anti-drugs crackdown to the slaughter of Jews during the Holocaust.
Foreign department undersecretary Ernesto Abella said the trip, scheduled from Sept. 2 to 8, was part of the government’s policy of being friends to all and an enemy to none.
The official itinerary has yet to be firmed up, although Abella said that the president would work at “enhancing cooperation by signing deals on employment of Filipino caregivers” in Israel, where there are an estimated 28,000 Filipinos.
Israel, which established diplomatic relations with Manila in 1957, was the first country to aid the Philippines when Supertyphoon Haiyan ravaged the country in 2013, leaving more than 6,000 dead. But that gesture of goodwill appeared to have been forgotten when Duterte in 2016 referred to the Holocaust while discussing his war on drugs that has killed thousands.
He said then: “Hitler massacred three million Jews,” understating the death toll by three million as cited by various historians. “Now there is three million drug addicts. I’d be happy to slaughter them.”
Duterte’s unwarranted comment set off a storm of criticism, with Germany lambasting it as unacceptable and the World Jewish Congress saying it was “revolting” as it demanded a retraction.
The chastised leader subsequently apologized, saying his mention of the Nazi leader was to show how opponents had sought to portray him.
“The president has already addressed that way back. In fact, he made a visit to the synagogue, to the local synagogue here. And obviously, he was taken out of context regarding that matter,” Abella said on Thursday.
“But also, regarding the actual relationships with Israel, the Israelis deeply appreciate his stand, and his position, and his administration,” he said.
Abella said the president’s trip to Israel would not affect the country’s relations with other Arab countries, where thousands of Filipinos are also employed.
“We are aware of certain sensitivities. But I believe we have reached the stage of maturity in our relations that they understand, each one of them,” Abella said. “For example, those host countries with whom we consider partners, they are aware also that we are in relationship with other nations, for example, like Israel.”
He said he believed the Israel trip “is not going to pose a challenge” to Arab nations hostile to the Jewish state, such as Jordan, where about 48,000 Filipinos are also working.
While in Jordan, Duterte was expected to talk about upgrading the Philippines’ defense capability, two-way trade and investment, as well as enhancing the working conditions of Filipinos, Abella said.
“Strengthening ties with these nations will promote economic growth, create new employment opportunities and enhance security,” he said. “A closer relationship with these nations means more opportunity to share expertise with each other in the fields of science, agriculture, industry and counterterrorism.”