Emperor Akihito: Japan ‘must never forget’ Filipino deaths of WWII

Abdul Qowi Bastian
Emperor Akihito: Japan ‘must never forget’ Filipino deaths of WWII
'This is something we Japanese must never forget and we intend to keep this engraved in our hearts throughout our visit,' the emperor says in his speech

MANILA, Philippines – On his first visit to the Philippines as head of state, Japan Emperor Akihito recognized the effects of the Second World War and said his country must not forget the deaths and hardships it brought upon the Filipinos.

Akihito, whose father was the emperor during the war, recalled how the Philippines became one of the battlegrounds of then rivals Japan and the United States.

“Last year Japan marked the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II. During this war, fierce battles between Japan and the United States took place on Philippine soil, resulting in the loss of many Filipino lives and leaving many Filipinos injured. This is something we Japanese must never forget and we intend to keep this engraved in our hearts throughout our visit,” Akihito said during his speech in Nihongo during the state dinner on Wednesday, January 27.

Earlier that day, Akihito and Empress Michiko paid tribute to soldiers who died during the war. They bowed before the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at the Libingan ng Mga Bayani in Taguig.

Akihito has made honoring Japanese and non-Japanese who died in the conflict a touchstone of his near 3-decade reign – known as Heisei, or “achieving peace” – and now in its twilight.

No discussion on comfort women

While Aquino acknowledged this “dark” past, he sympathized with the Emperor on carrying the burden of past decisions.

“I can only imagine the difficulties that you carry as the symbols of your nation and as individuals of good will. In meeting Your Majesties, I am held in awe, recognizing the burdens you have borne, as you have had to live with the weight of the decisions made by others during the dark episodes in the history of our nations,” Aquino said.

While this is the case, Aquino and Akihito did not discuss the issues of comfort women during their private meeting on Wednesday afternoon. Aquino earlier hinted he would not raise the issue, even as Japan is holding talks on the issue with South Korea. (READ: Comfort women to Aquino: Tackle our plight with Japanese emperor)

‘Staunch allies’

Seventy years ago, the countries were on opposites sides. But now Aquino said the East Asian country has been a strong ally of the Philippines on different fronts.

“It is, however, upon this history that we have built a far more enduring relationship. Japan has been a consistent, able, and trustworthy partner, who has helped advance our people’s progress,” Aquino said.

To further prove his point, Aquino said Japan was the Philippines’ top trading partner in 2013, the largest source of active Official Development Assistance and Investment Promotion Agency, a vital partner in the peace process and development of Mindanao, and an ally in the enhancement of maritime and disaster management capabilities.

More importantly, Japan is an ally in addressing the maritime disputes in the South China Sea.

“You have also been a staunch ally in advancing the rule of law in our region. For all this, and many more, I, on behalf of my countrymen, say: Domo arigato gozaimasu,” Aquino said.

The state visit to the Philippines comes at a time when the two countries are consolidating their forces in the wake of China’s aggressiveness in the South China Sea.

In June 2015, the two nations signed a Declaration for a Strengthened Strategic Partnership and its Action Plan, which was strongly condemned by China. (READ: PH beefs up defense deals amid dispute with China)

In a bilateral meeting in November, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Japan is considering providing large patrol vessels to the Philippine Coast Guard, the main agency tasked to secure the almost 40,000-km coastline of the country.

Meanwhile, Akihito cited the contributions of Filipino national hero Jose Rizal “in forging friendly ties” between the two nations.

Akihito said Rizal’s writings had left a legacy on the diplomatic relations between the two countries.

“Dr. Rizal spent a month and a half in Japan, deepening his understanding of our country and leaving behind his writings in which he envisioned that our two countries would one day engage in a full-fledged relationship. In addition to being a national hero in the Philippines, Dr. Rizal was a pioneer in forging friendly ties between the Philippines and Japan,” the emperor said. – with report from Agence France Presse/Rappler.com

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