MANILA, Philippines – Philippine President Benigno Aquino III on Tuesday, June 24, said his country supports the bid of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to allow Japan to defend its allies as their countries face an increasingly aggressive China.
In a strong message expected to agitate Beijing, Aquino said the Philippines favors the proposal to revise the Japanese constitution, which restricts Japan from defending an ally that is under attack.
“We believe that nations of good will can only benefit if the Japanese government is empowered to assist others, and is allowed the wherewithal to come to the aid of those in need, especially in the area of collective self-defense,” Aquino, who is on a day-long trip to Japan, said in a televised media briefing with Abe.
“To use the ongoing troubles in Syria as an example, Filipino peacekeepers have come under attack no less than 3 times. In such a situation, one would want to be able to count on the allies and in other units located in the area,” he added.
The Philippine leader explained: “We therefore do not view with alarm any proposal to revisit the Japanese constitution, if the Japanese people so decide, especially if this enhances Japan's ability to address its international obligations and brings us closer to the attainment of our shared goals of peace, stability, and mutual prosperity.”
Abe, for his part, said he explained to Aquino “the studies which are underway on the relationship between the right of collective self-defense and the Constitution.”
“In the face of the regional situation becoming increasingly severe, both nations are closely coordinating,” the Japanese leader added.
Philippines, Japan boost ties
Aquino's statement came as both Manila and Tokyo remain embroiled in territorial and maritime disputes with Beijing.
The Philippines, on one hand, is challenging China's expansive claims over the South China Sea, parts of which the Southeast Asian country claims as the West Philippine Sea.
Japan, on the other hand, is competing with China over the Senkaku (Diaoyu) Islands in the East China Sea.
File photo by Hiroya Shimoji/EPA
China detests the idea of countries, such as the Philippines and Japan, banding together to settle territorial and maritime disputes. Instead it pushes for one-on-one talks with the countries involved.
The Philippines snubs this reservation by China, its third biggest trading partner.
On Tuesday, Aquino said the Philippines and Japan should “jointly face the changing dynamics of our regional security environment.”
Constitution vs collective self-defense
Japan's pacifist constitution, however, limits the two countries' partnership.
Renouncing war, Article 9 of the Constitution of Japan states, “Aspiring sincerely to an international peace based on justice and order, the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes.”
“In order to accomplish the aim of the preceding paragraph, land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained. The right of belligerency of the state will not be recognized,” the constitutional provision adds.
Explaining Article 9, the Japanese Defense Ministry noted that under international law, “there is recognition that a state has the right of collective self-defense, that is, the right to use armed strength to stop armed attack on a foreign country with which it has close relations, although the state is not under direct attack.”
“It is beyond doubt that as a sovereign state, Japan has the right of collective self-defense under international law,” the Japanese Defense Ministry said in a briefer.
“It is, however, not permissible to use the right, that is, to stop armed attack on another country with armed strength, although Japan is not under direct attack, since it exceeds the limit of use of armed strength as permitted under Article 9 of the Constitution,” it added.
Photo by Toru Tamanaka/AFP
Abe's unpopular proposal
In an analysis piece for East Asia Forum, Toshiya Takahashi of the Australian National University said Abe and his secretary general at the Liberal Democratic Party, Shigeru Ishiba, “believe that the right to collective self-defense is a ‘deterrent mechanism’ against the challenge presented by China.”
Takahashi also said the two leaders “argue that Japan’s use of the right to collective self-defense will help to ensure US support vis-à-vis China” over the Senkaku Islands. He said Ishiba, for one, “asserts that the Japanese cannot ask young American soldiers to shed their blood, if the Japanese will not.”
Most of the Japanese, however, oppose Abe's bid for collective self-defense, according to recent surveys.
In another survey by Kyodo News, also a Japanese news agency, 55.4% rejected collective self-defense.
Japan implemented its constitution after World War II, as it “has resolved to ensure that the horrors of war will never be repeated and has ever since made tenacious efforts to establish itself as a pacific nation,” according to the Japanese Defense Ministry.
Paterno R. Esmaquel II is a senior reporter leading Rappler’s coverage of religion and foreign affairs. He finished MA Journalism in Ateneo and MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at email@example.com.