Neighbors united by trust

DIPLOMATIC POUCH - Koshikawa Kazuhiko - The Philippine Star

Prime Minister Suga Yoshihide and President Rodrigo Duterte held a summit telephone talk last May 19th. Although it was the Prime Minister’s strong wish to come to the Philippines this month, he had to postpone and focus on addressing a resurgence of the COVID-19 pandemic in Japan. Like the rest of the world, Japan and the Philippines must swiftly work towards resolving it and bring a semblance of normalcy to the daily lives of our peoples.

A productive discussion on Japan-Philippines economic cooperation, including the fight against the pandemic and regional affairs, also took place during the recent summit talk, the second discussion between the two leaders since their first exchange last December. The strong bond between Japan and the Philippines is that of neighbors united by trust, and it is an essential foundation of our diplomatic relations and cooperation. This bond shall allow us to continue building our trust as neighbors, as our countries share the fundamental values of freedom and democracy.

Japan and the Philippines have been working together to contain the spread of COVID-19, which has unfortunately affected the whole world. To date, Japan has provided the Philippines a total of $1 billion worth of assistance, including $2.6 million for the provision of medical equipment and supplies. Additionally, Japan has provided Avigan tablets free of charge for the joint clinical trials for finding an effective cure for COVID-19.

Prime Minister Suga has conveyed to President Duterte that Japan will disburse 20 billion yen more to the Philippine government as part of the Post-Disaster Standby Loan Phase 2 to support further Philippine economy and vulnerable people, who are severely affected by the pandemic. Additionally, Prime Minister Suga announced the allocation of an additional 1 billion yen to build a cold chain facility for the faster distribution of vaccines in the Philippines.

Another crucial area of cooperation we can explore for post-COVID-19 economic recovery is employment opportunities. Japan is currently struggling with a shortage in workforce brought about by a declining birth rate and aging population, while the Philippines is abounding in young and capable workers. This mutual, complementary relationship between our two countries can spark more dynamism in our people-to-people exchanges in the years to come.

Not to be left behind in our ongoing cooperation is the “Build, Build, Build” program of the Duterte administration. Significant progress has been made in the Metro Manila Subway and the North-South Commuter Railway, two projects that would improve congestion in metropolitan areas and nearby regions. Last February, the tunnel boring machines for constructing the Subway arrived in Manila. Soon, these mass transit systems will hit the tracks and make Filipinos experience the convenience and quality of this Japan-Philippines cooperation project.

Japan’s assistance to the “Build, Build, Build” program started in January 2017 when former Prime Minister Abe Shinzo announced this massive support to the Philippines. Out of the one-trillion-yen worth of pledges in the public and private sectors to be implemented in five years, 940 billion yen worth of projects are already underway. The Philippines can be certain that Japan will continue to carry out our agreements in a fast and sure manner.

Carrying over the strong human security aspiration of the late Madame Ogata Sadako, former UN High Commissioner for Refugees and former JICA president, Japan has been consistently supporting peace in Mindanao over the past 20 years. To help realize stability in the region, we have given support in facilitating the top-level meeting between the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in 2011, decommissioning the MILF combatants and weapons, developing road networks and improving livelihood. With the Mindanao peace process in its final phase, the Philippines has shown that lasting peace can be achieved through peaceful talks. It is our hope that a safe and peaceful everyday life for those in conflict-affected areas of Mindanao will become a reality.

On matters concerning security policy, Japan and the Philippines have a shared vision that promoting free and open seas and a rules-based international order are a precondition for peace, stability and prosperity. This was reiterated at the recent summit talk, during which both Prime Minister Suga and President Duterte concurred on close coordination for the promotion of both a “Free and Open Indo-Pacific” and “the ASEAN Outlook for the Indo-Pacific (AOIP),” and to work together closely towards the maintenance of peace and stability in the region under the rule of law such as the UNCLOS.

Prime Minister Suga expressed his opposition to the continued and strengthened unilateral attempts to change the status quo in the East China Sea and the South China Sea. In line with this, Japan has contributed to human resource development for strengthening maritime law enforcement and has provided patrol vessels, high-speed boats and coastal radars to the Philippine Coast Guard in response to the Philippine government’s request.

This year, which marks the 10th anniversary of Strategic Partnership between Japan and the Philippines, is a turning point. The shared values of our countries have allowed this partnership to develop. As Japan looks forward to the next 10 years, we wish for the close cooperation between Japan and the Philippines – neighbors united by trust – to be strengthened even more.

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Koshikawa Kazuhiko is the Japanese ambassador to the Philippines.

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