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Japan royals end state visit

Japanese Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko bid farewell as they board their plane during send-off ceremonies led by President Aquino yesterday. EDD GUMBAN

MANILA, Philippines – President Aquino led the sendoff ceremony for Japanese Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko, who ended their five-day state visit to the Philippines yesterday.

The 82-year-old emperor and his wife, 81, had a full schedule while in the country, including visits to technical and agriculture institutions as well as to shrines honoring the war dead.

The Palace said their state visit deepened the friendship and people-to-people ties as well as the strategic partnership between the two countries.

The royal couple arrived at the Balagbag Ramp of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport at 11:45 a.m. and were given departure honors.

Also present during the sendoff rites were presidential sister Pinky Aquino-Abellada, Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario, Public Works and Highways Secretary Rogelio Singson, Transportation and Communications Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya and Ambassador to Japan Manolo Lopez.

The couple’s visit coincided with the 60th anniversary of diplomatic ties between the Philippines and Japan. It was the couple’s first visit to the country as Emperor and empress.

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Akihito and his wife first visited the Philippines in 1962 and were received by then president Diosdado Macapagal.

The highlights of the imperial couple’s visit include a meeting with Aquino at Malacañang, wreath laying at the Rizal Park and at the Libingan ng mga Bayani and a visit to the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority’s Language Skills Institute.

The emperor and empress also went to the Japanese Memorial Garden in Caliraya and toured the International Rice Research Institute in Los Baños, both in Laguna, on Friday.

At the IRRI, they were briefed on the organization’s efforts to ensure global food security and were told of Japan’s contributions to the organization.

IRRI director general Matthew Morrell talked about the institution’s mandate, its current work and how Japan contributed to its research efforts on rice production.

Japan was one of IRRI’s financial donors in 2015, joining other big contributors like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the US and Australian governments.

Japan has also contributed 81 scientists to IRRI since 1960 and during IRRI’s first board meeting in 1960, Japanese geneticist Hitoshi Kihara was elected as first chairman of the IRRI program committee.

In his toast during the state banquet for the imperial couple Wednesday night, the President thanked them for choosing to come to the country “at this point in your lives.”

“While traveling to our shores in the 1960s might have taken longer, Your Majesties may have found it less taxing back then,” Aquino said, adding Filipinos were deeply honored by their presence as “respected symbols ‘achieving peace everywhere’ you go.”

He also wished them “great happiness and good health.”

The President also cited the long history of friendship between the Philippines and Japan, while praising the latter’s being a consistent, able and trustworthy partner for progress.

Japan was the Philippines’ top trading partner in 2014 and its largest source of official development assistance.

Japan is also a vital partner in the Mindanao peace process and in the region’s development, Aquino said.

Presidential Communications Development and Strategic Planning Office Undersecretary Manuel Quezon III said “Japan has also been helping us enhance our long-term disaster management capabilities.” He cited Japan’s readily coming to Philippine aid in the aftermath of Super Typhoon Yolanda in 2013.

“Coming at this auspicious time, Their Majesties’ visit further deepens the friendship between our two countries, strengthening the foundation of our bilateral relations for years to come,” Quezon said.

Militaristic past

But amid the strengthening ties between the Philippines and Japan, a militant youth group has expressed opposition over reports of a possible military agreement between the two countries.

In a statement, Anakbayan said forging a Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) that would allow the stationing of Japanese troops in the country would bring back memories of Japan’s brutal occupation during the Second World War.

“We have not forgotten the cruelties and abuses inflicted by the Japanese Imperial Army against the Filipino people,” Anakbayan chairman Vencer Crisostomo said.

“There has not been any real closure of this matter and yet here we have the Aquino government inviting Japanese troops to our backyard,” he added.

Crisostomo noted the absence of a clear apology on the part of the Japanese government for its past crimes.

In addition to the apology, he demanded that the Japanese government provide state compensation for Filipino victims of Japanese brutalities during the war. – Aurea Calica, Janvic Mateo


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