Press Briefing

Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) Undersecretary Ernesto Abella Pre-Departure Briefing on President Rodrigo Roa Duterte’s Historic Back-to-Back Visit to the State of Israel and the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan

Event Pre-Departure Briefing

ROCKY IGNACIO/PTV4: Good morning Malacañang Press Corps at sa ating mga bisita. President Duterte will visit Israel and Jordan next week. To give us more details, let’s now have Usec. Ernesto Abella of the Department of Foreign Affairs.

USEC. ABELLA: Good morning, Malacañang Press Corps.

President Rodrigo Duterte is undertaking historic visits on September 2 to 8, to renew and expand ties with Israel and the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan upon invitation of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and His Majesty King Abdullah II of Jordan. These trips will be the first by a sitting Philippine President to both countries. The visits will mark historic milestones, benefit trade and strengthen relationships with key partners in the Middle East.

In the past, we have enjoyed close historical diplomatic humanitarian and people-to-people ties with Israel. With Israel, we are celebrating the 81st anniversary of the Open Doors Policy of the Philippines under then President Manuel L. Quezon who offered shelter to more than a thousand Jews escaping the Holocaust in Europe.

We are 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 for the creation of the State of Israel.

We’re also commemorating the 61st anniversary of the formal establishment of bilateral relations between the Philippines and Israel. Israel was among the first countries to aid the Philippines during Typhoon Haiyan or Yolanda in 2013. There are an estimated 28,300 OFWs in Israel as of 2017.

Also in the past, we have enjoyed close diplomatic and people-to-people ties with the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. With Jordan, it will be an opportunity to return the visit of the late King Hussein who visited the Philippines 42 years ago. His visit on the 1st of March 1976 also marked the formal establishment of diplomatic relations between Jordan and the Philippines. There are an estimated 40,000 OFWs in Jordan as of 2017.

Now, both these visits will be a huge leap in the Philippines’ bilateral partnerships with both countries after decades of diplomatic relations. Today, we are to build on these relationships and our nations have much to gain from deepening ties, enhancing economic cooperation, sharing expertise in science and agriculture.

With Israel, with this first ever visit of a Filipino President, the areas of cooperation will be enhanced by the signing of the following agreements: Labor – a Memorandum of Agreement on the employment of Filipino caregivers; Science – a Memorandum of Understanding on scientific cooperation; Investment – an MOU between the Board of Investments and Invest in Israel.

In the future, we expect improvements in deployment procedures and the elimination of excessive placement fees imposed on Filipino workers bound for Israel. We also expect progress resulting from cooperation in the areas of science and agriculture. We also expect enhanced two-way trade and investments. The renewal and expansion of our relations with Israel is in pursuit of our friends to all enemies to non-foreign policy. The Philippines expects to do its part in promoting peace and stability in the region.

With Jordan, we are elevating our relationship with the Kingdom with the first ever visit of a Filipino President to Jordan on the 6th to the 8th of September 2018. The areas of cooperation to be enhanced are: (1) Labor – agreement on the employment of domestic workers; and also a Memorandum of Understanding on labor cooperation, we expect improvement of working conditions of Filipino domestic workers bound for Jordan. Next, Defense – Memorandum of Understanding on defense cooperation; we expect an upgrade of the country’s defense capabilities; (3) Foreign Affairs – political consultations on trade and investments; we are expecting an investment agreement with Jordan Investment Commission. We also expect enhancement of two-way trade and investments. Lastly, a mutual recognition of STCW or Standard of Training and Certification of Watchkeepers for Seafarers.

The renewal and expansion of our relations with the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan is in pursuit of our friends to all enemies to non-foreign policy. The Philippines hopes to do its part in promoting peace and stability in the region.

Strengthening ties with these nations will promote economic growth, create new employment opportunities and enhance security. A closer relationship with these nations means more opportunity to share expertise with each other in the fields of science, agriculture, industry and counter terrorists.

Thank you, end of statement.

REYMUND TINAZA/BOMBO RADYO: Sir, good morning. Sir, isn’t the growing tension between Israel and Jordan, now Jordan threatening to scrap the peace agreement with Israel, not as a threat or a concern rather… a concern for the President’s trip?

USEC. ABELLA: Come again?

REYMUND TINAZA/BOMBO RADYO: Isn’t the growing tension now between Jordan and Israel a concern to the President to his visit to the Middle East, to that area?

USEC. ABELLA: Actually at this stage, we have as we said, we have multilateral relations and as we pointed out, we’re friends to all and enemies to none. And this should not serve as any—it should not serve as any obstacle with our ongoing bilateral relationships with each of these nations.

REYMUND TINAZA/BOMBO RADYO: Sir so, he will actually visit Jerusalem?

USEC. ABELLA: We’re visiting Israel. Actually itinerary should be outlined soon. It should be issued soon.

REYMUND TINAZA/BOMBO RADYO: So, to be confirmed if he will go actually to Jerusalem, I mean, a contested area between the Palestine and the Israelites?

USEC. ABELLA: We will clarify on that, thank you.

REYMUND TINAZA/BOMBO RADYO: Last sir. Sir, you have mentioned a Memorandum of Agreement on Science. In what area, specific area of science considering, well Israel as one of the most advanced in terms of research?

USEC. ABELLA: As far as we know, this is about technologies that would enhance our technological capabilities. It’s basically the MOU is meant to promote research exchanges in scientific fields which both parties deem important to achieve sustainable growth. These maybe research projects of scientist of both countries, it may also be regarding joint seminars and other scientific meetings, which will be mutually beneficial to both countries. Thank you.

REYMUND TINAZA/BOMBO RADYO: Sir, last point. I understand our Defense department already purchased last May 2018 of about a SAM Spikes-ER missile. Do we have plan in that visit to purchase more of this kind of spikes?

USEC. ABELLA: Those topics actually are not on the official lists of subjects that will be discussed. And maybe its best refer to the appropriate department.

MARICEL HALILI/TV5: Good morning, sir. Sir, speaking of iyong mga firearms, during the visit of the President in Israel, will there be any discussion on security. I’m asking this because of the statement of the President, saying that he will be bringing some retiring military officials in his visit to Israel?

USEC. ABELLA: Regarding the visits, as you said, I think it was meant to be a gift. But actually, these are—they will also be exposed to recently, to the latest developments pertaining to their areas of expertise. So they may be, I think, I believe the Philippine Embassy’s arranging some exposure trips for these gentlemen.

MARICEL HALILI/TV5: So, there will be a different agenda for the retiring officials?

USEC. ABELLA: Yeah, they have their own program.

MARICEL HALILI/TV5: Sir, doon po sa memorandum of understanding in Jordan with regards doon sa defense cooperation. Can you give us more particular details about it, what does it mean, defense cooperation – will there be a training?

USEC. ABELLA: It’s something that has to be ascertained. There are no specifics regarding the matter this stage. But there will be discussions; but there are no specifics as stated here.

MARICEL HALILI/TV5: Sir, last na lang po; sino po iyong bubuo ng delegation?

USEC. ABELLA: As of this moment, we do not have a complete list.

BENJIE LIWANAG/DZBB: Sir, good morning. On the labor and employment, can you update us on that, sir – especially Jordan and Israel?

USEC. ABELLA: The agreement on the employment of domestic workers. The agreement establishes the proper procedures for the recruitment, deployment and arrival of Filipino domestic workers in Jordan through licensed Jordanian recruitment agencies in partnership with licensed Philippine recruitment agencies. The agreement provides that the recruitment and employment of Filipino domestic workers will be governed by a standard employment contract and other measures that will ensure the protection of the rights and welfare of workers.

So, finally the agreement provides for the obligations of both the employer and employee. In other words, it’s going to be transparent and clear and standardized.

BENJIE LIWANAG/DZBB: Aside from domestic workers. Are they going to hire any other skills from the Philippines?

USEC. ABELLA: I think, they may be opening that. But at this stage, this is the one that has really been given emphasis on.

DHAREL PLACIDO/ABS-CBN NEWS: Hi, sir, good morning. Sir, background lang, sir. Sir, can you explain to us why no Filipino President has visited Israel, given the special ties between the two countries?

USEC. ABELLA: I cannot speculate on that. However, the President has seen it fit at this particular stage to strengthen these ties considering that there is an increasing engagement of Filipinos in that particular area of the world. So regarding that matter, we cannot answer for the past administrations. But I believe at this stage, it is the President who has seen fit to see it, because of our growing and expanding horizons.

DHAREL PLACIDO/ABS-CBN NEWS: So, sir, considering that this is the first visit of a Filipino leader. Aside from signing agreements, what else does the President plan to do to make this landmark visit historic and special?

USEC. ABELLA: like I said, it’s already one of the things that it will be—he will be meeting with the Filipino community and already there is a clamor because they are 28,000, approximate 28,300 Filipinos in the area. However, I think the space is only about 1,500. So, it maybe a little bit—but it should be an exciting and historic, because the people really have been wanting for the President to go there.

ROSALIE COZ/UNTV/RADIO: Hi, sir good morning po. Sir, na-mention ni President before the reason why he wants to visit Israel is to also check on the condition of the Overseas Filipino Workers. Marami po ba sa mga OFW ang nasa mga conflict areas. Can you give us a report on their condition?

USEC. ABELLA: Regarding the specifics, we don’t have the specifics right now. But certainly, there’s need for us to clarify the working conditions, there’s need for example, regarding labor cooperation. On labor cooperation between the DOLE and the ministry of Labor of Jordan, there’s still need to determine the regulation of the deployment of labor, the development of a data base, the exchange of information and the promotion and protection of the welfare of workers among others. So, specifically Jordan led and is seem to be at this stage, any drastic cry for the well-being. But there is a demand for the improvement of procedures in order to ensure that the well-being of workers there – laborers, are insured.

ROSALIE COZ/UNTV/RADIO: So, President Duterte is pertaining to the working conditions, not necessarily iyon pong security situation ng mga kababayan po natin.

USEC. ABELLA: I’m sure kasama na po iyan, considering that the—

ROSALIE COZ/UNTV: Pero marami po bang naiipit na mga Pilipino sa gulo, sir?

USEC. ABELLA: As far as we know, wala naman po.

AYEE MACARAIG/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE: Good morning, Usec. Sir, there have been reports back in December that the Philippines is considering to move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. There have also been reports that this will be discussed during the President’s trip. First, could you confirm that it is—is it on the agenda? And second, what’s the position of the Philippines on the status of Jerusalem? Thank you.

USEC. ABELLA: This is actually not a topic of discussion. But definitely, the visit is about strengthening ties and enhancing economic cooperation, and sharing of expertise to overcome shared challenges.

On the other hand, as the SFA has said that the Philippines is really a friend to all and enemies to none, and there are certain sensitivities that we are aware of considering that we do have other partners in the Middle East area. So there’s sensitivity to those matters.

But if you are asking for ‘officially’, it is not on the topic of discussion.

AYEE MACARAIG/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE: Sir, on a related question. Is there a scheduled visit by the President to the Palace (unclear)

USEC. ABELLA: As far as I know, none.

AYEE MACARAIG/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE: Sir, last from my end. You mentioned we friends to all, enemies to none foreign policy. The President being the first Philippine leader to visit Israel, is this part of his policy to expand the Philippine’s alliances beyond traditional allies?

USEC. ABELLA: Definitely it’s widening our horizons so that we are able to strengthen our relationships to the rest of the nations, especially so because Filipinos are all over the world. So it is quite crucial that we’re able to have better relationships with our host countries.

PIA GUTIERREZ/ABS-CBN: Hi, sir. Sir, is the DFA concerned that the President’s visit to Israel will affect relations with other countries that do not recognize Israel as a state, specifically iyong mga Arab countries?

USEC. ABELLA: Like we said, ma’am, you know, 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. 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.

So it is important that we strike a balance. But if you are asking is it going to pose a challenge, I believe not. I believe the President has proven in many, many ways, again and again that it is possible to have this kind of independent foreign policy, will satisfy the demands and needs of each particular relation.

PIA GUTIERREZ/ABS-CBN: Also sir, the President’s earlier remark about Hitler slaughtering millions of Jews’ continue to haunt him; do you think it will pose a challenge especially doon sa acceptance of the Israelis to the President when he visits?

USEC. ABELLA: 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.

But also, regarding the actual relationships with Israel, the Israelis deeply appreciate his stand, and his position, and his administration.

PIA GUTIERREZ/ABS-CBN: Hindi naman, sir, sa binubuhay ulit iyong topic, pero I just want to clarify that the government is insisting that the President was taken out of context doon sa statement niya na iyon?

USEC. ABELLA: Ang sinasabi ko po ay na-address na po siya. Thank you.

PIA GUTIERREZ/ABS-CBN: Last na lang, sir. There are also human rights groups that are protesting his visit. Is the government concerned about it, sir?

USEC. ABELLA: Well, as you very well know, Israel is a very liberal and outspoken country; and just like the Philippines is. And you know the context seems to be quite similar in that sense that people are free to voice their opinion.

However, this is part of the landscape, and it is something that we take in stride.

INA ANDOLONG/CNN PHIL: Sir, just a clarification. You mentioned the standard employment contract that we are eyeing. Will this be both with the Jordan and Israel? And will this be similar to the one we had with Kuwait?

USEC. ABELLA: There’ll be specifics. It will be unique to both. It’s sort of this bespoke. But the intention and the final intention is the same, that to ensure the well-being and protection, especially protection of our workers.

INA ANDOLONG/CNN PHIL: Will the guidelines, the conditions set in the contract or the agreement with Kuwait be similar to the ones we want with Jordan and Israel?

USEC. ABELLA: Like I said, the final intention will be to protect and to ensure the well-being of the workers. Regarding the specifics, we can bring it back to you if necessary.

CHRISTINE AVENDAÑO/PDI: Sir, just three things. You said earlier that it was the Israeli and Jordanian leaders who invited the President for this visit.

USEC. ABELLA: Yes, ma’am.

CHRISTINE AVENDAÑO/PDI: For Israel, was this a recent invitation or an earlier one that the President just took up recently?

USEC. ABELLA: The invitation from Israel came last year through a telephone call. And the invitation from Jordan arrived this year.

CHRISTINE AVENDAÑO/PDI: And the President just made this decision to go there?

USEC. ABELLA: It’s his decision to go, to visit.

VIRGIL LOPEZ/GMA NEWS ONLINE: Sir, may we know kung ano iyong madi-discuss during the meeting between Kind Abdullah and the President?

USEC. ABELLA: We don’t have the details regarding that. But again, it will cover—a lot of it will cover the six points that we already stated that we listed down earlier. In general, it will be to establish strengthened relations with the host country, and to be able to better ensure the comfort and well-being and protection of our people there.
REYMUND TINAZA/BOMBO RADYO: Sir, on a lighter note. Will the President be visiting any place in the Holy Land, like Bethlehem, the Galilee?

USEC. ABELLA: I’m sure that he will be visiting—I cannot give you the specifics of where he will be going, exactly where. But he will be visiting significant spots.

ROCKY: Okay, maraming salamat po. Maraming salamat, Usec. Ernesto Abella. Maraming salamat, Malacañang Press Corps.

Source: PCOO-PND (Presidential News Desk)