MANILA - President Rodrigo Duterte arrived in Israel for a four-day visit, making him the first sitting Filipino president to visit the Jewish state.
Duterte’s plane landed at around 8:30 p.m. (Israel time) Sunday at the Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv.
The President was expected to go straight to Ramada Hotel in Jerusalem, where around 1,400 Filipinos were waiting to meet him. A meeting with the Filipino community is a staple of every visit the President makes to a foreign country.
Israel is home to around 28,000 Filipinos, mostly working as caregivers.
In his speech before he left, Duterte said he would seek a “robust relationship” with Israel in the areas of defense and security, law enforcement, economic development, trade and investments, and labor.
Israel views its ties with the Philippines as special as the latter provided refuge to around 1,300 Jews who escaped the Holocaust. The Philippines also cast a crucial vote in a United Nations (UN) resolution that led to the creation of the Jewish state.
The Philippines, under President Manuel L. Quezon, reinforced the Commonwealth government’s open-door policy to accommodate the Jews who escaped from Europe between 1935 and 1941.
In 1947, the Philippines, under the administration of President Manuel Roxas, cast the tie-breaker vote at the UN to separate Israel from Palestine. The two countries established diplomatic ties 10 years later.
Duterte is expected to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Reuven Rivlin.
The President is also expected to tour the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial and museum, the Old City of Jerusalem, and the Open Doors monument.
The monument commemorates the Philippines’ opening of its borders to Jews during the Holocaust.
Duterte will also visit an Israeli military base to view advanced weapons and equipment.
The tough-talking leader’s visit to Israel is keenly watched in light of the controversial remarks he made two years ago when he compared himself to Germany's Adolf Hitler and said he would be happy to slaughter 3 million drug addicts like what the Nazi leader did to Jews.
Human rights groups have slammed the Israeli government’s invitation to Duterte. Manila has largely ignored protests on the President’s visit to the Jewish state.
After the trip to Israel, Duterte will fly to Jordan, where he is expected to sign agreements on labor, defense and foreign affairs. His visit to Jordan will also be the first for a sitting Philippine president.