Japan: The neighbor we should remain close to

BABE’S EYE VIEW FROM WASHINGTON D.C. - Babe Romualdez (The Philippine Star) - March 10, 2019 - 12:00am

Shortly before heading back to my post, I had dinner with Japanese Ambassador Koji Haneda and his wife, Madam Ihoko. The Japanese Ambassador has become a good friend, and having a good sense of humor, I kidded him about being the owner of the Tokyo Haneda Airport – a favorite among Filipino tourists because “it doesn’t feel like an airport” especially with the Edo Market located above the check-in area that is a veritable shopping haven of products from all across Japan. Several big airlines from the US are actually seeking to increase flights to Haneda, with Japan’s Transportation Minister announcing earlier that 50 slots would soon be opened. 

Japan has always been a favorite destination for me. I frequently visited Japan when I was a news reporter for RPN Channel 9 and my former boss, Ambassador Roberto “Bobby” Benedicto, was the Philippine Ambassador to Japan. Nowadays, hundreds of thousands of Filipinos have made Japan their shopping and vacation spot. 

Last year, a record 31 million people visited Japan, and the number is expected to go even higher this year and the next because the Rugby World Cup in September will be in Japan, followed by the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.  

Data from the Japan National Tourism Organization says over 424,000 Filipinos visited Japan in 2017. According to Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono, the number went up to over 500,000 in 2018 – a huge increase from the 80,000 Filipino visitors in 2012. 

Our relationship with Japan is probably at its best ever, with trade relations and people to-people ties getting stronger over the years. In fact, Japan recently upgraded its consular office in Davao City to a consulate-general, underscoring the city’s potential as a tourism and investment destination for the Japanese. 

The Philippine Economic Briefing was recently conducted in Tokyo by the country’s economic managers led by Finance Secretary Sonny Dominguez, Transportation Secretary Art Tugade, newly appointed Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas Governor Ben Diokno, DPWH Secretary Mark Villar, Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Ernie Pernia and a top business delegation that included the Ayala Group’s Jaime Augusto Zobel and BDO’s Nestor Tan. Japanese investors expressed strong interest in the Philippines, encouraged by progressive reforms being undertaken by the government. (Photos will be featured in This Week on PeopleAsia, Allure section of the Philippine Star, next Sunday.) 

Japan is one of our biggest trading partners for both imports and exports that reached about $20 billion in 2018. It is also a major source of foreign direct investments, with inflows reaching $190 million for the period covering January to November 2018 – a 1,200 percent increase for the same period in 2017. According to Japan External Trade Organization president Yasushi Akahoshi, the Philippines is the ASEAN country where Japanese companies enjoy the highest profits.

As Minister Kono remarked, strategic relations re-established in 1956 between our two nations – whether in terms of the economy, security, politics, culture and other aspects – is now in its “golden age,” referencing the Duterte administration’s vision to usher in a “golden age of infrastructure” by 2022 to sustain economic growth and make it inclusive.

Japan in fact has been strongly supportive of President Duterte’s “Build, Build, Build” infrastructure program as seen in loan agreements amounting to $3.63 billion for infrastructure projects that include the big-ticket Mega Manila subway project which broke ground two weeks ago. 

The 36-kilometer underground railway system is going to be a “game changer,” said Ambassador Haneda, as it will unlock the huge potential of the country as a whole – not to mention solve the perennial traffic that costs the Philippines an estimated P3.5 billion in lost economic opportunities daily. The subway project is the single largest infrastructure project undertaken by the Duterte administration, stretching from north to south starting from Mindanao Avenue in Quezon City to the Ninoy Aquino airport in Parañaque and expected to be fully operational by 2025, serving an estimated 370,000 commuters every day. 

Anticipation is already building among many about the upcoming mass transportation projects that will utilize state-of-the-art, cutting edge Japanese technology in terms of reliability, safety and efficiency. As Secretary Dominguez said, Japan is “playing a major role in helping finance the massive infrastructure projects that will push our economy to a higher growth path in the coming years.” 

In other areas like maritime security, the Philippines and Japan are collaborating to maintain stability and prosperity in the region. Last week, the Philippines received two high-speed boats from Japan as part of the 13 high-speed boats package for the Philippine Coast Guard to help the latter enhance its capability to fight piracy and patrol the West Philippine Sea.  

In the latest Pulse Asia survey, results showed that Japan is perceived by Filipinos as one of our most trusted allies, next only to the United States. If anything, Japan is proving to be the kind of neighbor we should remain close to.  

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Fake news purveyor

Former senator-cum-frustrated presidential aspirant-cum-columnist Kit Tatad was removed by The Manila Times for being a purveyor of “fake news” and dishing out “fraudulent reports,” in the words of TMT chairman Dante Ang who called out Tatad for “writing a ridiculous, dubious, improbable, incredible story under the guise of journalism.”

Tatad has a distinct fake British accent who once fancied himself a foreign policy expert. We also remember when he pretended to be a constitutionalist and was sharply rebuked by the late Senator Joker Arroyo during the impeachment trial of Joseph Estrada, telling him: “You dare argue with me on constitutional law?”

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Email: babeseyeview@gmail.com

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