MANILA, Philippines - Under the cloud of China’s aggressively staking maritime territorial claims, Japan’s Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko arrived in Manila yesterday to forge stronger ties between their country and the Philippines.
President Aquino was on hand for planeside honors for the Japanese royals at a special hangar at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport.
It was the first time for Akihito to visit the Philippines as emperor. He was two weeks short of his eighth birthday when Japan bombed Pearl Harbor in Hawaii with the blessings of his father, the late Emperor Hirohito, setting off the war in the Pacific that would lead to the Japanese invasion of the Philippines.
Since then ties have improved between the two former foes, linked by their common ally the United States. Japan is now the Philippines’ single largest source of official development assistance and Japanese businessmen are among the biggest investors.
With China staking claims on islands occupied by Japan and claimed by the Philippines, Manila and Tokyo have also strengthened defense cooperation.
The imperial couple met the Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteers yesterday afternoon shortly after their arrival.
Today, the imperial couple is scheduled to attend a welcoming ceremony at Malacañang and meet Aquino in the morning, and visit a cemetery for Filipino victims to lay flowers in the afternoon.
After that, they will return to the palace for a state dinner.
The Loboc Children’s Choir will serenade the imperial couple during the state dinner. The choir global attracted attention when they sang at the ruins of the Loboc Church following the killer quake that hit the province of Bohol in October 2013.
On Thursday, the imperial couple is expected to meet some people of Japanese descent living in the Philippines.
On Friday, they will travel to Caliraya by helicopter and lay flowers at a monument installed by the Japanese government to commemorate the war dead, before returning to Japan the following day.
Former Japanese Foreign Minister Masahiko Komura will serve as principal attendant.
Around 1.1 million Filipinos and 518,000 Japanese soldiers and civilians perished during the war.
The Imperial Japanese Army launched air strikes on the Philippines, then a US colony, on Dec. 8, 1941 (Dec. 7 Hawaiian time), the same day Japan attacked Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, marking the start of the Pacific phase of World War II.
Japan occupied Manila in January 1942, while local residents continued to resist the move through guerrilla fighting. A month of Japan-US fighting in Manila in February 1945 claimed the lives of around 100,000 Filipino civilians.
“In the Philippines, many lives of Filipino, US and Japanese people were lost during the previous war. Especially, an enormous number of innocent Filipino civilians fell victim in the urban combat in Manila,” the emperor said prior to departure from Tokyo’s Haneda airport.
“We’d like to carry out this visit while always bearing this in mind,” he said, adding that he is pleased to travel to the country again following a previous visit by the couple in 1962 when they were crown prince and princess.
Their return after more than half a century comes at the invitation of President Aquino, extended during his state visit to Japan last June.
The trip was arranged on the occasion of the two countries marking the 60th anniversary of the normalization of bilateral ties in July.
With a strong desire to mourn all the war dead, the emperor has been traveling with the empress to places hit hard by the war at home and abroad, including Saipan, one of the Northern Mariana Islands, in 2005 and Palau last year, in commemoration of the 60th and 70th anniversaries of the war’s end in 1945. – With Mike Frialde, Kyodo