OCCUPIED PALESTINE – Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte’s visit to Israel – the first ever by a Filipino head of state – has led to a major tightening of the partnership between the Southeast Asian nation and the settler-colonial state, drawing ire from critics who have compared the bloodshed wrought by Tel Aviv against the Palestinian people to the human-rights violations routinely committed by Duterte against his own people.
The visit was largely closed to media owing to Duterte’s utterly humiliating gaffes, which in the past have included favorably comparing his own record of state terror and mass murder to that of Adolf Hitler, as well as his “jokes” about rape, shooting women communist fighters in their genitals, and a range of other bizarre and offensive statements.
Yet during Duterte’s Monday visit to Yad Vashem, the official Israeli memorial to victims of the Nazi genocide, the idiosyncratic head of state was in top form, as he called for “despots and insane leaders” to be immediately destroyed if they take part in “a killing spree, murdering old men, women, men, children, mother.” It was unclear to whom exactly the Filipino leader was referring, short of a reincarnation of Hitler himself.
Critics in the region have been derisive in their comments regarding Duterte’s visit.
The Netanyahu government “is willing to whitewash an illegitimate leader who took pride in massacring his citizens and violating human rights, and why?” Tamar Zandberg, the head of the progressive Meretz party, wrote on Facebook. “Because Duterte is willing to support the occupation [of Palestine],” she answered.
During his visit to the office of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the two signed various agreements relating to arms, tourism, and labor.
The labor deal aims to tweak the procedure for deploying overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) to Israel while eliminating the placement fees they face. About 28,300 OFWs were in Israel as of last year, many of whom are involved in care-giving, construction, and agriculture.
The two also discussed security cooperation and agriculture. Duterte was joined in his visit by a large business delegation.
Trading workers and oil for arms
In a press statement, MIGRANTE International, a Philippines-based advocacy organization with chapters across the Filipino diaspora, questioned whether the Duterte government really cares for the interests of the estimated 2.2 million OFWs in the Middle East who serve as a crucial source of remittances to the Southeast Asian country:
The volatile situation in the Middle East due to the strife between archenemies Israel and Iran will be aggravated by Duterte’s visit. His manifold acquisition of Israeli-made weapons will certainly send strong signals towards Israel’s enemies in the region. As we have seen in previous outbreaks of war, Filipino workers are often caught in harm’s way when their workplaces become battlefields between conflicting Middle Eastern armies.”
The group added:
For blatantly using migrant issues as a cover-up for Duterte’s militarist objectives in his upcoming state visit to Israel, Filipino workers there must keep an eye on the regime’s diplomatic moves and expose all his self-serving agenda intended to perpetuate his reign of terror in the Philippines.”
Watch: Parts of President Duterte’s brief message at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem pic.twitter.com/rvPPbi1VNT
— Pia Gutierrez (@pia_gutierrez) September 3, 2018
Importantly, the two also signed off on an offshore oil exploration license – a move that MIGRANTE sees as counter to the interests of the Philippine nation:
In exchange for more deals on arms importation and labour exportation, the Duterte regime is even willing to offer our natural resources for the exploitation of Israeli capitalists. An Israeli firm has been itching to seal its investment entry into our oil reserves under the Department of Energy’s modified Philippine Conventional Energy Contracting Program.”
According to reports, the license will be given to the Israeli-based Ratio Petroleum Limited and allows the company to explore for oil resources in an area east of Palawan. The company is a huge player in deepwater petroleum exploitation activities, including in the massive Leviathan natural-gas reservoir.
Israel and the Philippines – United Colonies of America?
Critics see the increased intertwining of Duterte and the Israeli arms industry as further proof of Filipino dependency on the U.S. military. In a statement by the leftist International League of People’s Struggle – Philippines (ILPS), a Philippines-based international advocacy organization, the group noted:
The U.S. provides more military aid to Israel than to any other state. Their military industry interlocks such as Rafael Advanced Defense Systems, Israel’s second-largest state-owned defense company, building defense systems with the Raytheon Co. of the U.S.”
Detailing the $3.8 billion per year, or over $10.5 million per day, provided to Tel Aviv by Washington, the group added:
With this aid, Israel has made Gaza a killing field for Palestinians and has unleashed deadly airstrikes on Arabs and Kurds in Syria. In turn, Israel’s arms deal with Duterte would rack up his own killings in the Philippines.”
“Only buy from Israel”
While Duterte once loudly derided his country’s dependency on the United States and pledged to forge strong strategic partnerships with China and Russia, on Tuesday he complained to Israeli President Reuven Rivlin that his country would buy weapons only from Israel due to its no-strings-attached weapons sales policies.
“My order to my military [is] that in terms of military equipment, particularly intelligence gathering, we only have one country to buy from, that is my order, specifically Israel,” Duterte said.
Rambling on, he noted that other countries — such as the U.S., China and Germany — impose limits and conditions on arms sales.
“America is a good friend but you know, if he would sell you something, he would also be listening. And so with China and everybody else, Germany,” he said.
In a Hebrew-language statement released by the Israeli government, Duterte also hailed the arms Israel provided last year to the Philippines military during its siege of Marawi , a once-prosperous Muslim-majority city on the Philippine island of Mindanao, noting that “the extent of the help that [Israel] extended was very critical in winning the war.”
Advocates have charged the Armed Forces of the Philippines with displacing tens of thousands of residents through the excessive and indiscriminate use of firepower against the small group of local Islamist insurgents who dug into the city between May and October, 2017.
Israel is one of the foremost arms dealers in the world, with the Israeli Defense Ministry reporting that about 60 percent of its military exports go to the Asia-Pacific region alone. Last year, the Philippines purchased around $21 million worth of radar and anti-tank equipment – a huge increase from only $4 million in 2016 and $6 million in 2015.
“From Palestine to the Philippines, stop the killings”
Rights monitors have accused Duterte of waging a campaign of brutal repression against indigenous communities across the Philippines and systematically targeting land and environmental defenders, human-rights activists, union leaders, and urban-poor drug users and innocents – often with the connivance of the United States government, which once controlled the Philippines as a direct colony.
Both the Israeli and Philippine governments have largely rejected criticism from the United Nations, with both Tel Aviv and the Duterte resorting to outright violent threats or actions against rights monitors seeking to hold either of the governments accountable.
In a press statement, Filipino leftist umbrella group BAYAN, or the New Patriotic Alliance, stressed its solidarity with the people of Palestine:
Supporting a Zionist regime that kills Palestinians and destabilizes the region, in exchange for arms that will be used against Filipinos, is a losing proposition. We will reject such moves by the Philippine government. Both Duterte and Netanyahu have been criticized for their bloody human rights record. From Palestine to the Philippines, stop the killings.”
Feature Photo | Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, right, jokes to photographers as he holds an Israeli-made Galil rifle which was presented to him by former Philippine National Police Chief Director General Ronald “Bato” Dela Rosa at the turnover-of-command ceremony at the Camp Crame in Quezon city northeast of Manila, April 19, 2018. Bullit Marquez | AP