Japan 75 years after Leyte landing: ‘Avoid war, value peace’

LEYTE, Philippines – On the 75th anniversary of the return of American General Douglas MacArthur to the Philippines, marking the country's liberation from the Japanese occupation in 1944, Chargé d'Affaires Yashushi Yamomoto said that his country today is one of peace. 

"It's a war that Japan has learned from... to consistently avoid war and value peace," Yamamoto said on Sunday, October 20. 

The celebration commemorates MacArthur's return to the Philippines after escaping two years before to avoid Japanese capture. MacArthur famously waded from the surf to the beach with Commonwealth President Sergio Osmeña, Brigadier General Carlos P Romulo, and the joint Philippine and US forces in Palo, Leyte.

Yamomoto reiterated in his speech before dozens of surviving Filipino and American World War II veterans that Japan is no longer the same Japan that occupied most of Asia during the war.

He emphasized Japan's contributions in forms of development aid and projects and said his country would continue to support the development of the Philippines.

“Japan will continue to support the Philippines and make contributions to the developments for peace and stability today,” he added.

On his official visit to Japan last May, President Rodrigo Duterte signed 26 agreements that are estimated to bring in about P289 billion worth of investments. (READ: LIST: 26 deals signed during Duterte's 2019 Japan trip)

Foreign dignitaries at the ceremony included Australian Ambassador Steve James Robinson; the US Embassy's Chargé d'Affaires John C. Law, and representatives from the United States and Philippine militaries. 

US ties ‘strong as ever’

In addition to remembering the landing in Leyte Gulf, the commemoration highlighted the constantly evolving ties between the Philippines and its former enemies-turned-allies.

Since 1898, the United States has gone from occupier, to liberator, and longstanding military ally after the Philippines gained its full independence in 1946.

Despite statements by President Duterte over the past several years saying that the Philippines would pivot to strengthening its ties with Asian-superpower China, Law said that ties between the two countries remain “strong” as ever. (READ: The Philippines' pivot to China)

“When you see events like today, where the Philippine veterans come out, where families come out, this shows the enormous depth of the relationship between the two countries, so I’m extraordinarily confident in the future of the alliance,” Law said.

US Ambassador to the Philippine Sung Kim was out of the country and unable to attend the anniversary.  

In April 2019, the US and Philippines held its annual Balikatan excercises.

On Monday, October 15, the Philippines, US and Japan held joint military drills near the West Philippine Sea off the island of Palawan. (READ: Philippines, U.S., Japan hold military drills near West PH Sea)

On the disputes over sovereignty rights in the West Philippine Sea, Law said the US would address the challenges “peacefully, in accordance with internationally accepted rules with internationally accepted laws.”

US Coast Guard Commandant Karl L. Schultz, who also attended the event, told reporters that the US is assisting the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) in strengthening the service responsible for guarding and patrolling the country's vast archipelago.

"We're keenly involved with the [PCG],” Schultz said. "We're helping the [PCG] grow from just a shy of 14,000 people today to becoming a force of 30,000 in the next 2 or 3 years." 

Duterte was absent in the activities commemorating the landing of the Filipino American forces in Leyte, a historic event that preceded the series of battles ending the Japanese occupation.

National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon read the President's speech which highlighted the need for international cooperation in the country’s campaign against drugs and terrorism. – Rappler.com

Ryan Macasero

Ryan covers Cebu and the Visayas for Rappler. He covers all news in the region, but is particularly interested in people stories, development issues and local policy making.