Philippines’ strongman president Rodrigo Duterte said Manila and Jerusalem share a commitment to peace and against “corrupt ideologies,” during a visit to Israel Monday.
“We share the same passion for peace. We share the same passion for human beings,” said Duterte, who has presided over the killings of several thousand alleged drug dealers and addicts and has been accused of human rights violation.
“But we also share the same passion of not allowing a country to be destroyed by those who [have] corrupt ideologies that promote nothing but to kill and to destroy,” Duterte added, in what appeared to be a reference to his fight against drug criminality.
“In this sense, Israel can expect any help that the Philippines can extend,” he said.
The comments came at a joint appearance with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and ahead of Duterte’s visit Monday afternoon to the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial and museum.
In 2016, Duterte has said that he would “be happy to slaughter” millions of drug users in his country, comparing himself to Adolf Hitler who killed millions of Jews.
He later apologized for having mentioned Jews, but not for his endorsement of mass killings of those in the drugs trade.
Duterte’s own government has acknowledged 5,000 deaths and 50,000 arrests in his war on the drug trade; human rights groups put the figures far higher, and say most of those dead are the urban poor.
The Reuters news agency has published a series of exposés that indicate Duterte’s police have summarily executed hundreds of alleged drug dealers and users — shooting them in the head and heart at close range.
Speaking ahead of their meeting Monday at the Prime Minister’s Office, both Netanyahu and Duterte hailed historically warm bilateral ties but added a personal touch to their remarks, which also centered on the tens of thousands of Filipino caretakers that work in Israel.
Netanyahu noted that his late father, the historian Benzion Netanyahu, “received incredible care” from a Filipino caregiver, Lee, before he died in 2012 at the age of 102.
“She took care of my father’s every need. And when he passed away, she took care of his brother’s needs, until he passed away,” he said.
“There has been a remarkable phenomenon in Israel where thousands and thousands of families have taken heart from the support given by Filipino care workers to the elderly. I am one of those families, Mr. President,” Netanyahu said, adding that he joins many Israelis in being “deeply moved by this show of humanity.”
Netanyahu hailed the Philippines’ “exceptional role” in having opened its doors to Jews fleeing Nazi persecution and for being the only country in Asia to have voted in favor of the 1947 UN Partition Plan, which paved the way for Israel’s creation a year later.
“Mr. President, we remember our friends. And that friendship has blossomed over the years, and especially over the last few years,” Netanyahu said.
Duterte thanked Israel for helping the Philippines during the so-called Marawi Siege of 2017, an armed conflict between government forces and Islamic State militants.
“We got help from your country, thank you for that,” Duterte said, presumably referring to Israeli arms provisions.
Human rights activists accused both IS and Manila of human rights violations during the five-months-long Marawi Siege.
started his remarks by thanking Israel for hosting tens of thousands of his countrymen, praising Israelis for the kind way in which they treat Filipino caretakers.
“They have been very happy working here,” he said, speaking in English. “And I have heard that they have been treated as human beings, unlike in other places, which I am not going to mention now.”
Duterte also introduced Netanyahu to his daughter Sara Duterte-Carpio, the mayor of Davao City, one of the Philippines’ largest cities. Duterte noted that she was the daughter of his Jewish-American ex-wife, Elizabeth Zimmerman.
Netanyahu and Duterte-Carpio briefly shook hands before her father continued his remarks.
“May we continue to be blessed with a strong relationship,” he said.
The introduction came a day after Duterte, who formerly served as mayor in Davao City, defended controversial remarks about rape cases there, in which he said they would continue “for as long as there are many beautiful women.”
After their brief remarks, Israeli and Filipino ministers signed a series of bilateral agreements, including one geared at improving the conditions of Filipino caregivers working in Israel. Among other things, the agreement, signed by Interior Minister Aryeh Deri and Secretary of Labor and Employment Silvestre Hernando Bello, will “knock off as much as $12,000 from the cost of every caregiver,” Netanyahu said.
“This is money that is taken away from the caregivers and the families, the Israeli families who so want their service. This is an exceptional agreement and I think it heralds the kind of friendship that we are developing.”
Later on Monday, Duterte and his delegation visited the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum.
On Tuesday, he will be welcomed by President Reuven Rivlin in his official residence and preside over a business seminar for heads of large companies from Israel and the Philippines in his Jerusalem hotel.
More than 150 Filipino businesspeople are part of Duterte’s delegation.
On Wednesday, the president is scheduled to lay a wreath at the “Open Doors” Monument in Rishon Lezion’s Holocaust Memorial Park. He will be joined by two Holocaust survivors who came to the Philippines in 1939 and have since moved to Israel.
Though it is not officially listed on his schedule, Duterte’s trip to Israel is expected to focus on exploring possible arms deals.
He has said in the past that he sees Israel as an alternative supplier of weapons after the US and other countries refused to sell him arms over human rights violations.