Embassy move to Jerusalem rejected as Philippine president set for Israel visit

Claims that President Rodrigo Duterte will discuss moving the Philippine Embassy to Jerusalem when he visits Israel in September have been rejected. (AP)
Updated 30 August 2018

Embassy move to Jerusalem rejected as Philippine president set for Israel visit

  • Duterte will begin a four-day state visit to Israel on Sept. 2
  • The Philippines leader will also visit Jordan from Sept. 6-8 following an invitation by King Abdullah

MANILA: Claims that President Rodrigo Duterte will discuss moving the Philippine Embassy to Jerusalem when he visits Israel in September have been rejected by the Philippines Foreign Affairs Department.
Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Ernesto Abella told a press conference in Malacanang on Thursday that discussions on the embassy’s future are “definitely not on the agenda.”
Duterte will begin a four-day state visit to Israel on Sept. 2 at the invitation of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The Philippines leader will also visit Jordan from Sept. 6-8 following an invitation by King Abdullah. Both visits will be a first by a sitting Philippine president.
Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said earlier that the firebrand leader’s trip to Israel “could be controversial.”
But Abella, reiterating the Duterte government’s stance that the Philippines is “a friend to all and enemy to none,” expressed confidence that the president’s trip will not affect the country’s relations with nations that fail to recognize Israel as a state.
Nevertheless, the government is “aware of certain sensitivities,” he said.
“We have multilateral relations and, as we pointed out, we are friends to all and enemies to none. This should not serve as an obstacle with our bilateral relationships with each of these nations,” Abella said.
“There are certain sensitivities that we are aware of considering we have other partners in the Middle East area ... But I believe we have reached a stage of maturity in our relations that they understand ... that we’re in relationship with other nations such as Israel. So, it is important that we strike a balance,” he said.
“I believe the president has proven in many ways that it is possible to have this kind of independent foreign policy while satisfying the demands and needs of each particular relation,” Abella said.
In a recent interview, Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Cayetano said: “We live in a modern and mature world. Israel knows that we’re very close to many Arab countries, we’re very close to Malaysia and Indonesia, Brunei Darussalam, which has an Islamic majority. Similarly, these countries also know that we are friends with Israel.
“Are there any repercussions by just visiting? I say we’re all mature enough to know that we can be friends even with countries that have issues with each other. What is important is that we strengthen our bilateral relationship with all the countries in the world that want closer relationship with us.”
Asked if the issue of moving the Philippine Embassy to Jerusalem will be discussed during the president’s trip, Abella replied: “It’s not a topic of discussion.”
The visit will strengthen ties, and enhance economic cooperation and sharing of expertise, he said.
Duterte will hold separate meetings with Netanyahu and Israel President Reuven Rivlin.
Abella said agreements are expected to be signed between the Philippines and Israel on the employment of Filipino caregivers, scientific cooperation and investment.
The government is seeking improvements in deployment procedures and the elimination of excessive placement fees on Filipino workers bound for Israel, he said.
This year marks the 81st anniversary of the “open door” policy of the Philippines under then President Manuel Quezon, who offered shelter to more than a thousand Jews escaping the Holocaust in Europe, and the 61st anniversary of formal bilateral ties between the Philippines and Israel.
Duterte is expected to discuss broadening cooperation in key areas with Jordan’s King Abdullah.
Abella said that the visits will be a huge leap in the Philippines bilateral partnerships.
“Strengthening ties with these nations will promote economic growth, create new employment opportunities and enhance security,” he said.
An estimated 28,300 Filipinos now work in Israel, with 40,000 employed in Jordan.


Sri Lanka casts its vote under shadow of virus

Updated 06 August 2020

Sri Lanka casts its vote under shadow of virus

  • Security crackdown as more than 7,400 candidates contest twice-delayed election

COLOMBO: Sri Lanka went to the polls on Wednesday to elect 225 members to its 9th Parliament amid tight security and health precautions to limit the coronavirus pandemic.

The polls were twice-delayed after President Gotabaya Rajapaksa dissolved the assembly in March and postponed polls scheduled for April due to the outbreak, before finally deciding on Aug. 5 as the date for general elections.

Mahinda Deshapriya, chairman of the Sri Lanka Elections Commission (EC), said police had been given “shooting orders” in case of security breaches and strict health protocols had been introduced at polling booths.

Deshapriya said that all 12,985 polling booths had been sanitized as a preventive measure.

The elections were completed at an estimated cost of $48.6 million, up from the $37.8 million spent during last year’s presidential polls.

Speaking to Arab News on Wednesday, Samuel Ratnajeevan Hoole, an EC member, said that a 60 percent turnout by noon was a “good sign of voters’ response.”

“Our voters are matured and informed now, and they will choose whom they want irrespective of any racial or religious differences,” he said, adding that there were fewer poll-related complaints this year compared with previous elections.

There were 46 registered political parties and 313 independent groups vying for the 225-seat parliament, with a total of 7,452 candidates in the fray – 3,652 fielded by 46 parties and 3,800 representing 313 independent groups.

According to the EC, nearly 16,263,885 registered voters could make their choice at the elections.

At this election, 196 members are to be elected at the district level under the proportional representation system to the 225-member parliament, while 29 members will be chosen from the National List. Under the 1978 constitution, the members are elected to the 9th Parliament.

Dr. Ruwan Wijemuni, general director of health services in Colombo, credited the voters for “lending their cooperation in full to make it a grand success.” At the same time, police spokesman Jaliya Senaratne said there were no reports of violence from any part of the island.

“There were minor scuffles on the eve of the polls in some parts of the island which were settled then and there,” he added.

Ismathul Rahman, 57, from the coastal town of Negombo, told Arab News that this year people were “keen to elect the right people” for their respective electorate as it was “crucial for the country’s economy.”

“It was a peaceful poll without any remarkable incidents of violence. The EC has managed the show well,” said Khalid Farook, 70, former president of the All-Ceylon Young Men’s Muslim Association, Wednesday.