Last Wednesday, 26 February 2014, I attended the Friendship Day Celebration between the state of Israel and the Philippines at the Rockwell Tent in Makati. It was the commemoration of the 56th year of the Treaty of Friendship between our two countries.
Not many people know that there are the bonds that tie the special relationship between our country and that of Israel. In fact, there have been Jews in the Philippines prior to the arrival of the Spaniards in our shores in the mid-1500s. This is not surprising because Jews have been in diaspora for over a thousand years, reaching Iran and India.
According the book The Christianization of the Philippines published by the University of San Agustin in Manila in 1965, the Jews had already been in our country even before the Spanish times. Don Pacheco Maldonado reported to the King of Spain in 1570: “The greater part of the inhabitants of Luzon are Muslims and Jews.”
I read the intriguing information in the article of Ms. Nena C. Benigno entitled “Israel and the Philippines: Centuries old Ties that Bind” printed in the souvenir program of the God Bless Israel and the Philippines annual celebration. The author is the daughter of Teddy Benigno, the long-time Manila Bureau Chief of the Agence France Presse (AFP) and the Press Secretary of President Corazon C. Aquino.
Toward the end of the 1930s, Nazi Germany under Chancellor Adolf Hitler began his persecution of the Jews in Europe, particularly in Germany, Austria and Poland. As the Dictator of Germany, the evil Hitler began his systematic elimination of the Jewish people that ended with the tragic genocide of six million Jews during World War II.
The Jews in Europe tried to escape, but there were no countries that would accept them and give them safe haven. Not even the great United States of America (USA) that did not want to get involved in the war in Europe in the late 1930s until they were bombed by the Japanese in Pearl Harbor in early December of 1941. Not even the United Kingdom (UK) under the great Prime Minister Winston Churchill was willing to accept Jews.
However, it was only the Commonwealth of the Philippines that openly agreed to accept the Jewish refugees escaping from their extinction in Europe. In April, 1940 our great President Manuel L. Quezon (MLQ) publicly announced that the Philippines would open its doors to 10,000 Jews fleeing from their homes in Europe.
President Quezon proudly exuded the Filipino character in his speech when he said: “By permitting them (Jewish people) to come, we are showing the world the kind of people we really are; hospitable, just and humane. The Filipino people have taken pride in the fact they are considered amongst the most hospitable people in the world.”
Later on when the Jewish refugees from Germany, Austria and Poland started arriving in Manila, Mr. Alex Frieder, the Chairman of the Jewish Refugee Committee with 200 members of the local Jewish community, gave glowing praise for our President Quezon. His passionate words were quoted in the Manila Daily Bulletin on the same month of April in 1940.
“What contrast is shown in the lives of the world’s leaders today. What a difference in this happy and peaceful archipelago, which is the outstanding example of democracy in Asia! Freedom of speech and conscience, peace and equality, justice to all, and hope of a glorious and ever-expanding future! Out of the darkness of the Middle Ages to the bright sunshine and radiant hope of a truly democratic and humanitarian way of life.”
More than 1,000 Jewish families were able to escape from the atrocities of Hitler’s Nazi Germany. The 10,000 visas given by the Philippine government were not fully availed of because the borders in Europe were already closed and the Japanese, the ally of the Germans in the Axis alliance with Italy, marched to Manila by early 1942.
After the war, the Philippines would again show its support to the Jewish people with the “rebirth of Israel.” As Ambassador Menashe Bar On said in his message on the occasion of 56 years of the Treaty of Friendship: “Seven years later on November 29, 1947, the Philippines was the only Asian country to vote in favor of the United Nations Resolution for the partition of Palestine and the recreation of the State of Israel.”
On that fateful day of 29 November 1947 as nations gathered at the UN General Assembly, the Philippines cast its “Yes” vote for the creation of the state Israel.
Ambassador Bar On revealed in his speech last Wednesday that the Philippines cast the crucial 33rd vote for Israel. Six months later on 14 May 1948, the state of Israel was born!
In appreciation of what the Philippines has done for the Jewish people during WII, an Open Door monument was inaugurated in Tel-Aviv in 2009 to honor the Philippines and the Filipino people. Likewise, Filipinos can travel to Israel without any need for a visa and stay there up to six months. There is a rare privilege given by any country for us, Filipinos.
In the Asean (Association of Southeast Asian Nations), Filipinos can only travel to member-countries only up to 30 days without any visa requirement. In Israel, it is a good 60 days with the Jews welcoming our compatriots!
Ms. Loida Nicolas Lewis, who was instrumental in the God Bless Israel and the Philippines Friendship Day Celebration last Wednesday, would like to increase the bilateral trade and tourism between our two counties. Indeed, there are tremendous potentials to strengthen business relations, as well as technical cooperation between our country and Israel, which has been on-going for year now on the agricultural side.
Thousands of Filipinos have been working in Israel for decades. They are being treated well like family. Cheers to the unique and special relationship between us. Shalom and Mabuhay!
Rick B. Ramos at firstname.lastname@example.org