04 March 2013, Jerusalem, State of Israel – Top officials of the Philippines and Israel met in Jerusalem on 4 March 2013 to review the current state of relations and discuss prospects of cooperation during the seventh Joint Commission Meeting (7th Phl-Israel JCM). The Joint Commission Meeting is an institutional mechanism that provides a venue for both countries to discuss and bring about new areas of cooperation and fine tune existing development cooperation projects, making them more relevant to the realities on the ground and the needs of both countries in general.
Undersecretary of Foreign Affairs Erlinda F. Basilio headed the Philippine Delegation and met with Israeli Foreign Ministry officials, presenting what the Philippines can offer in terms of strengthening bilateral relations and possible Philippine contribution in maintaining peace, stability and security in the region. H.E. Generoso D.G. Calonge, Ambassador of the Philippines to Israel, Honorable Petronila P. Garcia, Assistant Secretary for Middle East and African Affairs, Ms. Pamela Durian-Bailon, Director for Middle East and African Affairs, Second Secretary and Consul Greg Marie Concha-Mariño, Third Secretary and Vice Consul Ferdinand P. Flores and Labor Attaché Merriam Cuasay comprised the entire Philippine Delegation to the JCM.
The agenda covered the review of the current state of relations, the on-going development cooperation projects between the two countries and the prospects of deeper cooperation, especially in the area of labor and the protection of Philippine migrant workers in Israel. Regional developments, particularly in South East Asia, West Philippine Sea, ASEAN, Syria, Egypt and the whole of Middle East were also on top in the discussions in the JCM.
The most significant results of the 7th Phl-Israel JCM were the commitment to continue working together to increase people-to-people exchanges and technology transfer through MASHAV, and boost trade and investment activities; the initiation of preparatory talks to open direct flights from Manila to Tel Aviv; and the setting up of an office of a Defense Attaché in Israel so that military cooperation and partnership between the two countries can further be strengthened.
Deputy Director General Ruth Kahanoff opened the discussions by saying that both the Philippines and Israel are traversing across interesting times brought by external developments affecting national policies. DDG Kahanoff mentioned their interest in the developments in the West Philippine Sea among others. She also noted that Israel is closely monitoring changes in countries surrounding Israel, particularly Egypt in the south and Syria in the north. DDG Kahanoff thanked the Philippines for its role in maintaining peace and security in their northern border by maintaining Filipino peacekeepers in the Golan Heights under the aegis of the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force. She noted the bravery of contingent forces, particularly the Philippine troops serving in the Golan given the backdrop of the current crisis in Syria.
Undersecretary Basilio briefed the Israeli delegation about the Philippines' position on the West Philippine Sea, stating that the Philippines is looking forward to the revival of the excellent relations with China that has been stalled since last year. The Philippines and China are natural friends owing to deeply rooted historical and cultural linkages that have been existing for many years. She emphasized that the Philippines chose to bring the South China Sea issue to arbitration as a friendly act of a neighbor. She emphasized that the areas under dispute are legally the territory of the Philippines as guaranteed by international law, particularly the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). The Undersecretary stated that the Philippines will abide by the decision that will be handed down by the arbitration body. The Philippines, she emphasized, seeks the affirmation of its maritime entitlements in the portion of the territory being claimed by China. She assured the Israeli government that the Philippine remains fully committed to the peaceful settlement of the dispute.
For its part, the Israel delegation said that it is closely monitoring developments in the ASEAN region, particularly its integration process as its combined economic, trade and development offers a wide range of opportunities to other countries like Israel. On this note, Undersecretary Basilio proudly conveyed the information that ASEAN has made considerable and significant steps in advancing the integration process which will further strengthen the regional economic and political bloc in South East Asia.
Later during the day, Undersecretary Basilio and the rest of the Philippine Delegation met with Foreign Ministry Director General Rafael Barak.
The Undersecretary reiterated the Philippine agenda of pursuing more cooperation with the State of Israel particularly in the areas of air services which will pave the way for direct flights between Israel and the Philippines, the reopening of an office for a Defense Attaché to deepen military and defense cooperation and increase people-to-people exchanges in terms of tourism, trade, investments and institutional linkages.
The Undersecretary invited more members of the Israeli business sector to come and visit the Philippines, and explore the enormous opportunities that the Philippines has to offer.
Director General Barak welcomed the agenda presented by the Philippine Delegation. He vowed that Israel would continue working hand-in-hand with the Philippine to achieve these goals and noted that these tasks at hand will strengthen relations between the two countries. He reiterated that Israel will remain thankful for the Philippines' role in the creation of the State of Israel as well as the crucial task of the Philippine troops deployed in the Golan Heights.
Capping the official program of the 7th Phl-Israel JCM was a brief tour of Yad Vashem organized by the Israeli government and a wreath laying ceremony in the Holocaust Memorial (Yad Vashem) on 5 March 2013. The Philippines, in turn, is expected to host the next Joint Commission Meeting in Manila in 2014. The JCM has become an annual event since last year's hosting by the Philippines. —END—