MANILA – The Israeli government on Tuesday inaugurated its first honorary consulate in Davao City, opening up opportunities for the two countries to enhance bilateral ties focused on Mindanao.
Jorge Narciso Marquez, a Filipino businessman, was installed as Israel’s honorary consul on the island.
Israel Ambassador to the Philippines Rafael Harpaz said the “milestone” would deepen and widen the two nations’ bilateral ties particularly in development assistance, agriculture, health, innovation, counterterrorism, trade, and economy, among others.
“The visit of President Duterte to Israel two years ago was the trigger that brought the Philippines’ attention to Israeli private sector, so there is a lot of interest in doing business with the Philippines,” he told reporters in an interview.
Marquez believes that Mindanao as an agro-industrial economy is an area “worth exploring” for Israelis who are known for agricultural technologies and innovations.
He also hoped that more Israeli businessmen would invest in the island through joint ventures with Filipinos in Mindanao.
“Mindanao being the southernmost island of our country, we have been saying that we have been neglected for a while but now that the President is focusing on Mindanao, hopefully, the businessmen will be coming more often
and making bigger investments here through joint venture since we are the fruit basket of the country,” he said.
Harpaz, during the presser, also mentioned that Israel and the Philippines are now looking at ways to further boost economic ties, particularly in the upstream petroleum industry.
He said a company working on Leviathan, one of the biggest natural gas reserves discovered in offshore Israel, is currently conducting oil and gas exploration activities in the Philippines.
“The other one that came here signed an agreement and they are doing the exploration, not yet drilling (because) this is the last phase. It’s a long process with technical issues but it’s finding the possibility. They are going to the Sulu Sea and that’s the place we are looking,” he said.
In 2018, President Rodrigo Duterte and Israeli firm Ratio Petroleum Ltd. signed Petroleum Service Contract No. 76 covering Area 4 in Eastern Palawan under the Fifth Philippine Energy Contracting Round. This allowed the Israeli company to explore the area, covering 416,000 hectares across the East Palawan Basin for potential oil and gas resources.
Harpaz said talks on such partnership between the Philippines and Israel had been on the table for years.
“Now it became an important area of cooperation with the private sector. We will do our utmost to facilitate and help, so this is something that is different from other businesses. It takes time but it is a serious company which is really moving forward with this project,” he said.
Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr., on the other hand, hailed Marquez’s appointment as the Israel honorary consul as a “most promising development” in the region.
“As both our countries work tirelessly to jump-start our expiring economies, the Honorary Consulate of Israel in Davao City has played an instrumental role. Its presence will encourage Israeli citizens to consider Davao and its environs as tourist, investment, or retirement destinations,” he said.
“Mr. Marquez’s designation as Israeli Honorary Consul is a most promising development. His years of experience in business and the extent of his professional network will be vital in enhancing our links,” he added.
Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte also welcomed the opening of the honorary consulate, saying she looks forward to welcoming Israeli investors in the city.
“May this consulate also serve as a gateway for more opportunities for collaboration on mutually beneficial projects that can bring development and prosperity to both our nations,” she said.
The Israel government earlier donated medical supplies and equipment to Bunawan District Lying-in, Malabog Birthing Home, and Toril Health Center in Davao City in celebration of the honorary consulate’s opening. (PNA)