MANILA -- As a gesture of gratitude, Israel Ambassador to the Philippines Rafael Harpaz on Monday shared his deep appreciation of former President Manuel Quezon's order to open the country's borders for victims of the holocaust during the ceremonial celebration of his 141st birthday in Quezon City.
We may have heard of this before, but Harpaz, along with his fellow Israelis, would always be interested in retelling this story to whoever needs reminding on how momentous this event was in the 1930s -- the Nazi regime -- for the 10,000 Jews escaping for their lives.
"We will continue to tell the story of President Manuel Quezon. In fact, every Israeli delegation visiting the Philippines is stopping by the Philippine-Israel friendship monument which is right here in Quezon Memorial Circle to honor and pay respect to this leader," he said in his speech at the Quezon City Memorial Circle.
Under the Nazi regime, Jews were forced to leave their own country and those left were persecuted.
This time, most of the world, including the majority of the democratic countries, closed their doors to Jews in fear of crossing the Nazis.
"However, there was one leader who stood out. President Manuel Quezon decided to open the doors of the Philippines and was willing to provide 10,000 visas for the Jewish refugees fleeing the Nazi regime. Unfortunately, only 1,300 Jews made it to the Philippines since the doors of Europe were already shutting down," Harpaz shared.
Quezon's decision to save the Jews was not well-known to Filipinos and abroad until the last decade.
The awareness of many Filipinos for his legacy is much higher with the efforts done by many organizations and individuals including the Embassy of Israel in Manila and with the help of academic materials and historical films that brought the story to the people, especially to the young generation.
In 1949, then-president Manuel Roxas made another significant decision for the Israelis.
The United Nations needed to vote on the creation of the State of Israel and the Philippines was the only Asian country to vote in favor of Israel.
These two historic decisions tightened the long and lasting friendship between Israel and the Philippines.
"I was honored to be the official escort of President Rodrigo Roa Duterte during his historic visit to Israel last September 2018. He is the first Filipino president in office to officially visit the State of Israel," Harpaz said.
In Duterte's visit to Israel, a 90-year old Jew stood up and shared his warm greetings in Tagalog, a testament of the special bond between the two nations.
Israel, as one of the strongest and developed countries in the world, has lent a hand to the country several times.
When Super Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) hit the Philippines in 2013, Israel did not hesitate to give assistance and was one of the first countries on the ground to conduct relief operations.
"History provides today's leaders with role models. President Manuel Quezon represents true leadership with integrity and moral conviction, which should be followed by leaders and by the young generation," Harpaz concluded. (PNA)