Aquino welcomes Japanese emperor, empress in Malacañang

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – President Benigno Aquino III welcomed Japan's Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko at Malacañan Palace on Wednesday, January 27.

Presidential sister Pinky Abellada joined Aquino in welcoming Japan's imperial couple, who arrived in Manila on Tuesday for a 5-day state visit.

It was the second meeting of the two heads of state, after Aquino visited Japan in June 2015. Aquino was then conferred the highest honor from the Imperial family – the Grand Cordon of the Supreme Order of the Chrysanthemum.

The imperial couple's state visit to the Philippines coincides with the 60th anniversary of the two countries’ diplomatic relations, earlier marred by Japan's occuption of the Philippines during World War II.

Their last visit to the country was in 1962, when they were still Crown Prince and Crown Princess. 

After the Emperor signed the presidential guest book, Aquino took his guests on a brief palace tour. Akihito and Aquino then had a private meeting.

According to Palace Communications Secretary Sonny Coloma, Aquino and Akihito talked about the emperor's previous visit to Baguio and Tagaytay cities.

Other topics they discussed are the "heavier traffic volume in National Capital Region due to increased automobile sales, mostly of Japanese make" and the "significant presence of Japanese retailer Uniqlo and the Heattech technology."

Aquino earlier hinted he would not be discussing the issue of Filipino comfort women with the Japanese head of state. (READ: Comfort women to Aquino: Tackle our plight with Japanese emperor)

Akihito and Michiko are set to attend a wreath laying ceremony at the Rizal Monument in Luneta on Wednesday afternoon before proceeding to the  Libingan ng Mga Bayani in Taguig to honor the fallen soldiers of the last war. 

Aquino will host a state dinner for the royal couple on Wednesday night.

Honoring World War II dead

Before leaving Tokyo on Tuesday, Akihito said they intend to conduct their visit to the Philippines “by always keeping in mind” the lives lost during the war. (READ: Japanese emperor to honor WWII dead during PH visit)

Akihito specifically noted the battle for the liberation of Manila in 1945, where an estimated 100,000 people were killed. 

The Philippines is the latest stop in the soft-spoken emperor's pacifist pilgrimage, which has appeared to contradict his government's nationalist bent. 

Akihito, 82, 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.

Their 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. – with reports from Agence France Presse/Rappler.com 

Camille Elemia

Camille Elemia is Rappler's lead reporter for media, disinformation, and democracy. She won an ILO award in 2017. She received the prestigious Fulbright-Hubert Humphrey fellowship in 2019, allowing her to further study media and politics in the US. Email camille.elemia@rappler.com

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