Philippines, Israel eye direct flight

WORKING IT OUT. If efforts are fruitful, the Philippines could have a direct flight to Israel, said Israeli Ambassador to the Philippines Rafael Harpaz. (SunStar photo/Allan Cuizon)

A NON-STOP flight between two countries is seen to perk up trade and tourism of both.

This is what Israeli Ambassador to the Philippines Rafael Harpaz wants for Israel and the Philippines.

In an interview yesterday, Harpaz said that while they keep an eye on the Philippines, the presence of a direct flight would maximize the potentials of both countries in people-to-people exchanges and trade relations.

According to Harpaz, both countries are eyeing to establish a direct flight by next year. If this happens, this would make travel to the Holy Land a lot more accessible. He also expects a boost in trade activities.

Reports said that Philippine Airlines will soon open a direct flight between Manila and Tel Aviv in Israel by this year or in 2019. With this planned direct connection, flight time will be cut short to only 10 hours.

At present, Filipinos who travel to Israel pass through Thailand, Hong Kong, Turkey and Jordan.

Harpaz pointed out that tourism is an important pillar to maintain the long-standing relationship of Israel and the Philippines. Israel maintains a close relationship with the Philippines after it opened its doors to the Jews during the time of the Holocaust.

According to the Embassy of Israel in the Philippines, some 23,500 Filipinos traveled to Israel in 2017, up by 61 percent from the 14,600 tourists who visited Israel in 2016.

At present, Philippine passport holders can enjoy visa-free access to Israel up to 90 days. The ambassador said most Filipinos who come to Israel are part of pilgrim tours.

Meanwhile, Israeli tourist arrivals to the Philippines grew by 98 percent from a mere 8,776 in 2014 to 17,446 in 2017.

Harpaz yesterday met with the officials of the Cebu Chamber of Commerce and Industry (CCCI). The ambassador also met with Cebu Gov. Hilario Davide III, Cebu City Mayor Tomas Osmeña and Mandaue City Mayor Luigi Quisumbing.

The ambassador’s visit to Cebu is part of Israel’s friendly gesture to also build ties with the different provinces in the country, following the recent state visit of President Rodrigo Duterte to Israel, where both countries signed 21 deals which could translate to 790 additional jobs for Filipinos.

Recently, Duterte signed a seven-year oil exploration deal with an Israeli firm to develop the country’s own energy sources. Ratio Petroleum can now explore Area 4, which covers 416,000 hectares across the East Palawan Basin, for potential oil and gas resources. If successful, this would lessen the country’s dependency on oil importation.

“I hope this will give the Philippines more blessings,” said Harpaz.

Besides oil exploration, both countries could work together in the areas of agriculture, innovation and technology, cybersecurity, tourism and manufacturing.

Israel could also be a potential destination for Filipinos who want to seek work abroad, especially caregivers.

The Ambassador noted that there are some 30,000 Filipino caregivers who are currently employed in Israel. They are also eyeing the possibility of opening Israel’s hotel industry to Filipino workers.

Moreover, dried mangoes, coconut oil and semiconductors are some of the Philippine products that are in demand in Israel.

In 2016, Israel ranked 37th as the Philippines’ trading partner (out of 226 partners), 36th export market (out of 213 markets) and 36th import supplier (out of 207 suppliers).

The country’s exports to Israel grew by 23.60 percent from US$46.23 million in 2015 to $57.14 million in 2016 while Philippine imports expanded by 27.32 percent from $103.99 million in 2015 to $132.40 million in 2016.

Harpaz said mounting direct flights would help both countries achieve a balanced trade.

Top 10 Philippine products exported to Israel are electronics, chemicals, marine products, processed food, garments, machinery or transport equipment, furniture, carrageenan, giftware and construction materials.

The country imports products from Israel such as electronics, industrial manufactures, chemicals, machinery or transport equipment, processed food, flowers, yarns and twine, natural oils/fats and waxes and construction materials.

CCCI signed a sisterhood agreement with the Israel Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines (ICCP) last year.

The two chambers agreed to undertake efforts to promote better relations, exchange information on chamber management and developments and important public and private opportunities in both countries, explore ways of promoting trade and industrial cooperation and facilitate joint ventures between Cebu and Israel, and to exchange delegations and organize joint meetings to promote the development of commercial exchange.


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