TOKYO, Japan – President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. said on Wednesday, February 8, that the Philippines and Japan have yet to start formal talks on a reciprocal access agreement that would strengthen ties between their military forces. He added though that he wanted to see increased cooperation with the neighboring nation to boost security in the Indo-Pacific region.
Marcos made the statement in an interview with reporters traveling to Japan for the Philippine leader’s first official visit to the country.
“The VFA equivalent, hindi pa talaga namin napagusapan (we haven’t talked about it) formally yet. I don’t know if Prime Minister (Fumio) Kishida will take it up with me in this trip, but so far there have not been any formal proposals on that area,” Marcos said.
The Philippines and Japan first explored the idea of entering into a visiting forces treaty that would allow Japanese militiary access to the country’s military bases in 2015. At the time, the Aquino administration cited the need for such an agreement with Japan as both countries faced an aggressive China.
Nearly eight years later, growing Chinese aggression has continued to raise tensions in the region, drawing concern around the world and prompting efforts from countries like Japan and the Philippines, United States, Australia, and Canada to increase defense spending and broaden multilateral security cooperation.
On Wednesday, Marcos said he wanted to deepen defense ties with Japan, “being of course all interested in the same thing – security in the region.”
“These things are ongoing and I think that – I’m sure that Japan wants to develop and make even more robust, closer our relationship especially in that regard,” Marcos said.
“I think cooperation is not a bad thing,” he added.
Recent efforts to increase security cooperation between the two countries included an December 2022 announcement from Japan that it would donate UH-1J utility helicopters to the Philippine military for disaster response activities. Late last year, top military officers from Japan, the Philippines, and the US also held their first trilateral meeting in Japan.
“Our dealings with Japan have always been at the G2G JICA aid grant level and of course on the commercial side. So this is a new element to our relationship because we are talking about security of the region,” Marcos said.
During Marcos’ visit, Filipino and Japanese defense officials also expected to sign an agreement that would allow for humanitarian assistance and disaster relief activities between Japan Self-Defense Forces and the Armed Forces of the Philippines.
Officials from both countries see the effort as a “stepping stone” to a reciprocal access agreement because such drills would already involve procedures that a military access deal would cover. This included settling on the number of Japanese troops that would participate in humanitarian assistance and disaster relief activities, as well as their legal status while in the Philippines.
More South China Sea patrols
During the interview, Marcos also said that the Philippines and Japan wanted to increase patrols in the South China Sea.
Japan has played an active role in building up the Philippine Coast Guard’s (PCG) capabilities with some of the agency’s largest ships, like the BRP Teresa Magbaunua, donated by the Asian country. The vessel was among those used by the agency to conduct patrols in the West Philippine Sea and hosted US Vice President Kamala Harris during her visit to Palawan last November.
The PCG likewise submitted a proposal to Japan for the construction of a support base in Subic, Zambales, a strategic area that lies just 120 nautical miles from Panatag Shoal (Scarborough Shoal).
Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) President Tanaka Akihiko earlier said it was conducting research related to the proposal.
“Siguro sa kanilang palagay (I guess), the next step is to do the improvements and rehabilitation sa Subic para sa coast guard,” Marcos said.
“Naturally, the reason behind all this is we would like to have more patrols along up snd down the South China Sea so we can assure the freedom of passage,” he added.
While in Tokyo, Marcos will meet with Kishida, the Imperial Family, and Japanese business executives. He is scheduled to depart for home on Sunday, February 12. – Rappler.com
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