Japan-Philippines ties: Unchanging in a changing world

DIPLOMATIC POUCH - Koji Haneda (The Philippine Star) - May 17, 2020 - 12:00am

In what seems to be a sudden departure from the usual, the world we live in is totally different from what it was only a few months ago. COVID-19 is taking its toll around the globe. Each day, it is unfortunate that more people succumb to the disease. Our frontliners in this battle deserve all the respect, gratitude and support we can give.

It has been more than two months since Philippine authorities implemented quarantine restrictions. This meant we need to take a step back from our day-to-day affairs and practice social distancing to flatten the curve. Despite this rapidly changing world, we can still find hope in the constants that remain. The time-honored friendship between Japan and the Philippines is one that stays strong in the face of adversity, and this unprecedented time only prompted us to aim for a much stronger bilateral cooperation.

During the enhanced community quarantine, we have joined hands in various ways, including the proactive response to our citizens who struggled to go back to their home country due to travel restrictions. Our heartfelt appreciation goes to the Philippine government for its assistance in the repatriation of Japanese nationals.

Since COVID-19 broke out, we have extended emergency assistance to support frontliners, equivalent to almost $4 million, through Philippine Red Cross and international organizations like UNICEF and UNHCR. We have also decided to provide technical cooperation for capacity building on COVID-19 measures through JICA. But this endeavor does not stop from here. Japan remains firmly committed to expand partnership with the Philippines, in accordance with its changing needs, priorities, and bold economic policies to cushion the impact of COVID-19.

Right now, it is extremely important that we accelerate the development of antiviral medicines and vaccines to see an end to this predicament. As part of such global effort, there is an increasing expectation for the anti-flu drug Avigan, developed by Fujifilm Toyama Chemical Co., as it may potentially prevent virus reproduction inside the body. While it is still under clinical trial to test its efficacy against this sinister virus, we have decided, given the increasing requests from international community, to cooperate with other likeminded countries to expand its clinical research. In response to the request made by the Philippine Government to participate in this joint effort, we are glad to provide the Philippines with a substantial amount of Avigan tablets as emergency grant assistance, emphasizing its proper usage and prescription in view of its known adverse side effects. I hope this cooperation would swiftly establish the efficacy and safety of this drug to further contribute to the advancement of global clinical research and save more lives on the line.

Even beyond the government level, these acts of solidarity are very much alive in our private sector. The long-term partnership between Tohoku University and the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM), established in 1981 with Japanese government grant aid, has enabled the very first COVID-19 testing system in the Philippines. Nagasaki University, for its part, dispatched a medical expert team to assist its long-standing partner San Lazaro Hospital.

The production of Japan-made artificial lung machine ECMO (Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation), a last-resort medical equipment for COVID-19 patients with severe heart and lung failure, is another form of our cooperation. ECMO’s core parts are being manufactured in Mactan, Cebu. Despite the outbreak and quarantine, the dedication of many Filipino workers, together with the support of DTI and Lapu-Lapu City, has made possible the continuous operation of the factory, and therefore, the steady production of ECMOs in Japan.

Many Philippine-based Japanese companies also demonstrated their solidarity with frontliners. Toyota, Isuzu, Hino Motors, and Mitsubishi Motors have made vehicles available for healthcare workers without charge. DENSO, PRII (Tosoh), Ajinomoto, YGC (Tokio Marine’s group), Mitsubishi Corporation, SMBC Manila branch, and JFE are among those that have donated face guards or food items.

In every way we can, Japan has offered a helping hand without hesitation. Prime Minister Abe recently expressed to the ASEAN leaders our commitment to establish the ASEAN Center for Emerging Disease and Public Health Emergencies to augment regional capacities against any pandemic. Alongside this initiative, our two countries can actively engage in more areas for cooperation.

The present situation may have forced us to socially distance ourselves. Yet even from afar, Japan and the Philippines are closer than ever. In trying times like this, we only need to look to each other to know that the ties that held us together before are still the same ones that keep our bond unchanging – even to this day.

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(Koji Haneda is the Ambassador of Japan.)

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