MANILA – President Rodrigo Roa Duterte returned to the country Tuesday night from what he called a “productive, engaging” trip to Japan, confident that besides the economic bonanza, his talks with Tokyo’s leader will advance efforts to ease regional tensions, particularly in the Korean peninsula and the South China Sea.
The Korean issue and freedom of navigation were among those he tackled with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Duterte said. The raising of the matter was timely, given continuing concern over whether Beijing’s expanded projections was impairing freedom of navigation in the waters where 40 percent of global maritime trade is routed.
Duterte stressed, however, that at the moment, dialogue is still the best way to go.
“I cannot imagine myself getting involved in a violent and almost a suicide action. We are — you can read all the legal treaties there claiming this and claiming that. But the problem, I said, is i do not want to criticize the big powers now because it was really of their own making,” Duterte said.
Joint drills possible
According to Duterte, Philippines and Japan will intensify defense and security cooperation to combat terrorism, violent extremism and transnational crimes.
“We will strive to make our waters free and open to our peoples so that they can enjoy our rich natural maritime resources,” President Duterte said.
Mounting joint drills is a big possibility, according to the President: “Maybe coast guard. The coast guard there is purely civilian. It belongs to the department of transportation. And coast guard is the component of enforcing the laws . . . applicable in the territorial waters of Japan. Coast guard lang po [only] ..”
Besides PM Abe, Duterte met Japanese Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko, whom he failed to see on an earlier visit because of a death in the royal family.
He also witnessed the signing of business agreements between Japanese and Filipino companies worth $6 billion.
As a way of showing appreciation and letting them get some respite, the President also brought along on his trip the top commanders who led government security forces in the five-month battle to liberate Marawi from ISIS-inspired terrorists.
Support for Build Build Build
In his arrival statement, Duterte said he and Mr. Abe discussed concrete, time-bound and specific ways to further intensify bilateral cooperation between Philippines and Japan.
“On top of our agenda is vital support for the centerpiece projects under the Philippines’ Build, Build, Build program,” the President said.
The Chief Executive added that more projects would be rolled off under Japan’s trillion-yen or assistance pledge of close to $9 billion. He said these cover “huge-impact, social infrastructure projects that our country needs to sustain economic growth and improve the quality of life of our people.”
He said the Japanese Prime Minister has committed to “give flesh” to Japan’s special assistance program.
“I am committed to [working] closely with him to ensure that projects proceed soonest and it will be Done, Done, Done,” Duterte said.
Peace in Mindanao
The President also thanked Japan for affirming its commitment to the Philippines’ pursuit of a just and lasting peace in Mindanao.
He said Japan would be the nation’s partner in rebuilding Marawi as “the center of moderation and tolerance.”
He also said that the industry leaders in Tokyo signed business agreements valued at six billion dollars, more than thrice the amount sealed business agreements during his first visit to Japan in 2016.
“We encouraged Japan to explore more opportunities to invest in the Philippines, including in steel manufacturing, agribusiness and IT and creative services,” he added.
President Duterte also said he looks forward to welcoming Prime Minister Abe and other leaders to the Philippines in the upcoming 31st ASEAN Summit and Related Summits.
The President said he was humbled by the singular honor of meeting with Emperor Akihito in Tokyo and conveyed the Philippines’ deep appreciation, gratitude for Japan’s continuing friendship and support for the peace and development goals of the country.
“We want our relations with Japan to grow even more. Japan is our friend closer than a brother; Japan treats us as a sovereign equal,” he said, adding that the Philippines would work with Japan in building the “golden age” for the strategic partnership.