PH-Japan ties 'closer than brothers'

By Joyce Ann L. Rocamora

August 6, 2018, 12:25 pm

MANILA -- High-level engagements between Japanese and Filipino officials over the past two years signaled the expanded and deeper bilateral relations of the two nations -- a "friendship" that the Philippine embassy in Japan expects to further nourish.

No less than President Rodrigo R. Duterte regarded Tokyo as Manila's friend, which is "closer than a brother."

This was more evident when Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited Davao City in January 2017, breaking protocol formalities between him and the chief executive as they shared traditional Filipino food.

The two leaders also took a photo souvenir of them touring inside Duterte's residence, including one inside his bedroom with folded mosquito net still hanging on the bedposts.

This was followed by Duterte's visit to Japan in October 2017, where the landmark Philippines-Japan Joint Statement on Bilateral Cooperation for the Next Five Years was read.

Duterte also visited Imperial couple Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko that year.

The two countries have gone a long way from the wartime period, where they were able to drastically transform the mindset about each other.

This year, the two nations celebrate 62 years since the normalization of their bilateral relations in July 1956.

"It is not an exaggeration to say that, through many decades of partnership, the Philippines’ relation with Japan remains one of its most robust and stable," Robespierre Bolivar, former Foreign Affairs spokesperson and now Consul General to Japan told the Philippine News Agency (PNA).

Old ties

Japan and the Philippines' ties date back to pre-colonial times. One of the oldest foreign settlements in the Philippines was that of the Japanese in the late 16th century.

But the two nations have crossed paths even earlier than this.

The book "Rebuilding Bridges: 50 Years of Philippines-Japan Relations, 1948-1998," by the Yuchengco Center for East Asia of De La Salle University, accounted that in 1440, the visit of Japanese traders to Northern Luzon was documented, and in 1517, Martin de Goiti, a Spanish official who visited Manila, also found 20 Japanese settlers.

In 1614, Lord Takayama Ukon, a Christian baron from Japan, sought refuge in the country together with his followers, a choice of sanctuary regarded as an "enduring historical link" between the Japanese and Filipinos. Takayama's arrival was 23 years prior to the martyrdom of San Lorenzo Ruiz in Japan.

Manila and Nagasaki were also active trading partners until 1636, when the Tokugawa shogunate closed Japan to the world.

Other examples of old ties were those involving the country's revolutionary and national heroes.

In 1896, Andres Bonifacio, Emilio Jacinto and other revolutionaries asked Tokyo to support their cause. A number of Japanese military officers were able to fight alongside the revolutionaries against the Spaniards.

Another example is the Philippines’ national hero, Dr. Jose Rizal, who was then fleeing persecution from the Spanish after publication of his book Noli Me Tangere.

Rizal visited Tokyo. And as recounted by historians, he himself found Filipinos in Japan.

As he strolled through Hibiya Park, he heard musicians playing Strauss, and found out they were his fellow countrymen.

Fast forward to the present -- his visit to Hibiya Park led to the laying of a bust of him in the park.

Regained goodwill in PH-Japan ties

While the Philippine-Japan history has been carved centuries ago, it was not until 1956, at least a decade ago after the war that involved the Japanese and Filipino people ended, that a renewed partnership based on goodwill bloomed.

The book "Rebuilding Bridges" chronicled the Philippine-Japan diplomatic relations, which dates back to 1888 when Tokyo established a diplomatic office in Manila. This was expanded to a Consulate General in 1919 and was eventually declared an embassy in 1943 under the Japanese occupation.

After the World War II, it was only after the signing of wartime reparations agreement that signaled the formal normalization of diplomatic ties between the Japan and the Philippines. The former formally established an embassy in Manila on July 23, 1956, with Koichi Asaumi as the first Japanese Ambassador in the Philippines after the World War II.

Ambassador Felino Neri assumed role as the Philippine Ambassador to Japan in the same year. The first Philippine Ambassador to Japan was Jorge Vargas, who was appointed during the Second Philippine Republic in 1943.

In December 1957, a year after the normalization of bilateral relations, Japanese Prime Minister Nobusuke Kishi visited Manila, which was followed by Filipino leader Carlos P. Garcia who went to Japan December 1958.

Upon Kishi's request, Garcia allowed the collection of Japanese remains from the wartime period, estimated to around 360,000 in 1957. Then came 1962, when then Crown Prince Akihito and his wife, Princess Michiko stayed in Manila in November.

The second time they visited Manila was in 2016 as the Their Majesties Emperor and Empress of Japan.

Diplomatic exchanges between the two nationalities for the past 62 years were numerous and "Kudan" was among its witnesses.

Kudan or what others call the Philippine Ambassador's residence in Tokyo has been designated by the National Historical Commission of the Philippines as a "National Historical Landmark," the first and only to be declared outside the country.

Fortified links

Over the past few years, the two countries engaged in mutual cooperation that spans different areas, continuously securing stronger links than the previous ones.

Japan remains as the country's largest source of Official Development Assistance (ODA) that helps fulfill the Philippines' development and economic priorities.

Both being island-nations, Japan and the Philippines have also shared a strong maritime bond, particularly in maintaining the rule of law and maritime domain awareness in the region.

To date, Tokyo has provided 10 coast guard vessels, which Manila needs to patrol the country's huge maritime area, and to enforce laws in its domain.

Over the years, Japanese and Filipinos have also collaborated on technological applications.

Through collaboration with the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), Hokkaido University and Tohoku University, Manila launched its satellite Diwata.

On June 29, the Philippines sent its first cube satellite to space, MAYA-1, developed under the BIRDS-2 program of Kyushu Institute of Technology.

MAYA-1 will be released into orbit this August.

Economic interaction between the two is also dynamic with Japan as one of the top sources of investments for the Philippines.

According to the Philippine Embassy in Japan, there are more than 1,400 Japanese companies currently operating in the country.

Japanese investors have established a track record in the Philippines and Japanese brands are well regarded in the country.

Bolivar said the Philippine market remains "very lucrative" for Japanese businesses, reflecting a synergy between the two countries when it comes to business.

Moving forward

Despite their already wide-ranging tie-ups, Manila has no intention to slack in further developing areas where Japan and the Philippines can work on, particularly on infrastructure.

Some of the projects where Japan is actively involved are the Metro Manila Subway System, a first for the Philippines, and the building of the Panglao Airport in Bohol.

In June 2018 alone, three high-level bilateral engagements were also held, including the meeting between Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano and Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono, and the Vice Ministerial Strategic Dialogue that covered all bilateral and regional concerns.

The third one was the Joint Consultative Committee for Economic Development and Infrastructure, headed by Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III and Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Ernesto Pernia.

The Filipino officials discussed with the Chief Cabinet Secretary of Japan infrastructure development and economic cooperation projects where fundings by Japan is being sought.

Meanwhile, with the increasing presence of Filipino workers in Japan, the government is also seeking a regulated recruitment to secure the protection of Filipino workers in the country.

As of December 2017, the Japanese Ministry of Justice estimated that there are more than 260,553 Filipinos in Japan. On the other hand, there are at least 16,977 Japanese residing in the Philippines as of October 2017.

Last month was the Philippines-Japan Friendship Month.

Like many other Filipinos who had their fair share of fascination towards the Land of the Rising Sun, from the idyllic places and unique traditions it offers visitors, it is the Japanese people's "civility and innovativeness" that makes the country interesting for a senior diplomat like Consul General Bolivar.

"One of the traits I have always admired in the Japanese is their civility, a window, I think, to their kind and respectful nature," said the diplomat, who recently took oath as country's minister and consul general in Tokyo.

Bolivar shared that civility breeds patience and self-restraint in each person. "From the individual springs the discipline of Japanese society. These are traits I very much wish our kababayans will imbibe when they live or visit Japan."

As an oriental society, Bolivar enthused that Japan, like the Philippines, is mindful of tradition and respect for customs, an immutable feature of Asian societies.

Despite this, Tokyo was still able to contribute in shaping the era heavily reliant to technology.

"Japan enjoys freedoms that are found in democratic societies. This environment that makes it safe for its people to seek, inquire, learn and question mixes with the deeply embedded artistry and attention to detail of the Japanese, and results in a society constantly seeking innovation and invention," Bolivar said.

"I believe these are truly admirable in Japan, and I dream of the day that Filipino artistry and Philippine democracy will produce an equally innovative Philippines," he added. (PNA)