Israel investors pursue defense, pharma opportunities in PH

Published August 30, 2021, 7:00 AM

by Bernie Cahiles-Magkilat

Israeli businessmen are looking into opportunities in the Philippines in the fields of agriculture, water, renewable energy, pharmaceutical, ICT, and government to government defense cooperation.

Nir Balzam, deputy chief of mission at the Israeli embassy in Manila

“This will be our main focus in the years to come,” said Nir Balzam, deputy chief of mission at the Israeli embassy in Manila during the “Kamuning Pandesal” virtual forum.

According to Balzam, these are the sectors where Israeli has strong capability. He said that Israel has developed very good technologies on these areas that are applicable to the Philippine situation.

Aside from these areas, Israeli is pursuing defense collaboration with the Philippines.

In fact, he said, this is the first-ever for the Israeli embassy in Manila to have defense attaché post. The Israeli defense attaché in Manila is Raz Shabtay. A new Israeli Ambassador to Manila is also expected to arrive next month, September.

“There is collaboration on defense and we have our first-ever defense attaché, who is working closely with the Department of National Defense to understand the needs and technology,” he said.

On health, Balzam noted the Philippine Economic Zone Authority (PEZA) had some discussions with an Israeli firm exploring opportunities in the area of vaccines.

PEZA Director General Charito ‘Ching’ Plaza also said they are courting pharmaceutical companies and defense industries of Israeli for collaboration in terms of vaccine manufacturing and establishment of defense economic zone.

“We have created different types of economic zones such as the Pharmaceutical Ecozone and the Defense Industrial Complex to make use of our idle lands and cater to your industries that will in turn boost socio-economic progress in the regions,” said Plaza.

To date, Plaza said there are seven Israeli enterprises registered under PEZA. These companies contribute P114.521 million in investments, employing 175 workers.

In addition, bilateral cultural exchanges are being pursued especially with the expected direct flights to Tel Aviv by PAL in October this year. This flight was supposed to start earlier this year but was postponed because of the reimposition of heightened travel restrictions following the surge in COVID cases.

“As soon as possible, we will allow it and PAL is still onboard,” he said adding that Israel is a good source of tourists from backpackers, honeymooners and elderly. “We are getting constant questions as to when we can open,” he said noting that the Philippines is the actual location for the Israeli “Survivor” reality show.

There are 25,000 to 30,000 Israeli tourists a year to the Philippines.

Filipino tourists to Israel are mostly religious pilgrims. Balzam noted that the Philippines is just one of the few countries in Asia that Israel granted free-visa.

In addition, Israeli Olympic swimmers trained in the Clark facility, which he described as one of the best in the world.

“It’s one of the most successful Olympic swimming campaigns we had,” he noted. Already, the Israeli team has booked the venue for their training in preparation for the world championship next year.

The embassy is also working with the Department of Education as they welcome scholars, especially on Middle Eastern studies, he said.