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Duterte kicks off visit to Israel




JERUSALEM, Israel – President Duterte is set to visit the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial Center as he kicks off his four-day historic visit to this country today.

Duterte is set to have a museum tour at the memorial hall and take part in the wreath-laying ceremony at the Hall of Remembrance here. The President is also signing the guest book at the Children’s Memorial Hall.

According to The Times of Israel, Duterte will take part in a ceremony inaugurating a monument to the Filipino rescue of Jews during the Holocaust.

Duterte is the first Philippine president to ever set foot in the Holy Land since the establishment of the bilateral relations between the two countries 61 years ago.

With Israel, the Philippines is celebrating the 81st anniversary of the “Open Doors” policy of the Philippines under then President Manuel L. Quezon who offered shelter to more than 1,000 Jews escaping the Holocaust in Europe.

The Philippines is also marking the 71st anniversary of the United Nations partition plan which the Philippines supported, the only Asian nation to do so and which paved the way to the creation of the state of Israel. The 61st anniversary of the formal establishment of bilateral relations between the Philippines and Israel is also being commemorated.

Duterte attracted criticisms during the early months of his presidency when he compared himself to Adolf Hitler, saying he would be happy to kill 3 million addicts like what the Nazi leader did to Jews.

“Hitler massacred three million Jews. There are three million drug addicts. I’d be happy to slaughter them,” Duterte said. “At least, if Germany had Hitler, the Philippines would have you know,” he added, referring to himself.

After drawing controversy, Duterte later apologized to the Jews, saying he never intended to devalue the memory of the Holocaust victims. “Nag-react ang Jewish community all over the world. I would like to make it clear now, here and now, that there was never an intention on my part to derogate the memory of six million Jews murdered by the Germans,” he said.

Duterte, accompanied by an entourage including soldiers and police, will sit down with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and hold an event with some of the thousands of Filipino migrant workers in Israel.

”We assign great importance to this visit, which symbolises the strong, warm ties between our two peoples,” Israel’s foreign ministry said in a statement.

Duterte has pivoted the Philippines away from its former colonial master the United States and toward warmer diplomatic and business ties with China and Russia.

The US and Canada have both had military hardware deals fall apart with the Philippines due to concerns over Duterte’s drug war. But so far sales with Israel have gone smoothly.

”(The visit) is for President Duterte to look for an alternative market for… weapons for our armed forces as well as for the police,” Henelito Sevilla, an international relations expert at University of the Philippines, told AFP. (With a report from AFP)