Philippines’ Duterte eyes arms deals on Israel trip

MANILA: President Rodrigo Duterte on Sunday embarked on a landmark visit to Israel and Jordan that underscores his policy that the Philippines is a “friend to all and enemy to no one.”
The visit will be a first by a sitting Philippine president to the two countries.
Citing the “volatile situation” in Israel, Duterte said in a speech before leaving on his eight-day official trip that the government has to ensure the protection of about 28,000 Filipinos in the country.
“Without mentioning anything, there is a volatile situation there and we have to be sure that our citizens are fully protected,” he said.
Duterte will also discuss broader cooperation with Israel in key areas, such as defense and security, law enforcement, economic development, trade and investments, and labor.
The Philippine leader will visit Israel from Sept. 2-5. 
His itinerary includes separate meetings with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Reuven Rivlin, a tour of the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial Center and a visit to a monument commemorating the rescue of Jews by Filipinos during the Holocaust.
He is also expected to sign an oil exploration license that is being granted to the Israeli-owned Ratio Petroleum, and will visit to a display of advanced weaponry arranged by the Israel Defense Ministry. 
Energy Undersecretary Donato Marcos has said Ratio Petroleum had sent correspondence to the Department of Energy “indicating its readiness to finally sign the petroleum service contract.” The contract had been delayed for almost three years.
A delegation from the Philippine military visited at least three Israeli defense firms days ahead of Duterte’s arrival, but no information was made available on possible arms deals.
A Philippine military official who was part of the delegation told Arab News the visit was separate from that of the president. 
“Different trip. Ours was purely navy interests,” the official said.
He said the delegation was undertaking market research for fast patrol craft and missile systems.
The Philippine navy last April received an Israeli-built Spike-ER (extended range) surface-to-surface missile system it bought from Israel’s Rafael Advance Defense Industries. 
Last month, the defense department announced it will buy more missiles to arm its ships following the successful test-firing of the Spike-ER missile off Lamao Point in Limay, Bataan, on Aug. 9.
The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) had expressed confidence Duterte’s visit to Israel will not hurt the Philippines’ relations with other countries, particularly Arab nations. 
“There are certain sensitivities that we are aware of considering that we do have other partners in the Middle East area. But I believe we have reached a stage of maturity in our relations that they understand each one of them. They are aware also that we’re in relationship with other nations for example like Israel,” said DFA Undersecretary Ernesto Abella said.
In his departure speech yesterday, Duterte said he would be guided by “our international commitments in support of efforts and initiatives, including the two-state solution toward the attainment of just and lasting peace.”
After his visit to Israel, the president will continue to Jordan on the invitation of King Adullah II. He will be in Jordan from Sept. 5-8.
“The agenda is promising. As I seek to renew relations with a country and people, it shall be common aspirations certainly. I look forward to discussing ways and advancing cooperation in the key areas of improving defense and security, sustaining growth, addressing transnational crime, intensifying trade and investment and enhancing labor cooperation,” Duterte said.

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