FAST FACTS: PH-Japan relations through good and bad times

Jodesz Gavilan

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FAST FACTS: PH-Japan relations through good and bad times
The visit of the Emperor and Empress of Japan coincides with the 60th year since the 'normalization of diplomatic affairs' between the two countries

MANILA, Philippines – The Emperor and Empress of Japan arrived in the Philippines on Tuesday, January 26 for a 5-day visit.

The state visit of Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko also coincides with the 60th year of “normalization of diplomatic affairs between the Philippines and Japan. (READ: PH visit of Japanese emperor, empress set for January)

The Philippines was occupied by Japan for almost 3 years during the World War II in the 1940s. During this period, the Japanese military authorities organized a new government structure – often referred to as a “puppet government” – under which a number of Filipinos served. 

The two countries have gone a long way from the wartime period – when at least 7,000 soldiers died in the Bataan Death March alone – and have since established a relationship based on cooperation and mutual trust.

During his state visit in June, President Benigno Aquino III said the Philippines and Japan “know what it is like to overcome the scars of the past and build ties of friendship that promote each other’s stability and prosperity.” (READ: Aquino: PH-Japan ties ‘global example of cooperation’)

We’ve collated information on bilateral relations in the past 6 decades between the Philippines and Japan:

Japan is the Philippines’ largest trading partner

Japan continues to account for a majority of the country’s foreign trade. It has been the top trading partner of the Philippines for many years.

In the first semester of 2015, Japan accounted for 14.7% or $8.765 billion of the country’s total foreign trade.

 Country Percent
First semester 2015 14.7%
2014 15%
2013 14.5%
2012 14.3%
2011 14.2%
2010 13.7%

Primary exported goods to Japan are electronic products and woodcraft and furnitures. A bulk of the imported goods from Japan, meanwhile, are electronic products and transport equipments.

One of the biggest foreign groups in Japan are Filipinos

The population of Filipinos in Japan is the 3rd largest group of foreign national residents with 217,585 of them as of 2014, according to the Japan Statistical Yearbook. This number accounts for Filipinos who are medium to long-term and special permanent residents.

Data from the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration indicate that there were 12,815 deployed land-based overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) in Japan in 2014.

The number of OFWs has been increasing in recent years, most especially between 2013 and 2014.

Year Number of land-based OFWs
2014 12,815
2013 10,936
2012 9,947
2011 9,285
2010 5,398

These OFWs remit an average of P42,000 ($878)* a month to their families in the Philippines, according to the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA). Total OFW cash remittances from Japan amounted to $981,882,000 (P50 billion) in 2014. (READ: Which countries sent the most OFW remittances?)

Meanwhile, there are 17,702 Japanese nationals residing in the Philippines.

Japan has helped the Philippines, from roads to health centers for many decades

Japan has been extending help to the Philippines through the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) since 1974. However, it started helping the country through the Colombo Plan in 1954.

From 1967 to 2008, the Philippines received Official Development Assistance (ODA) from the Japanese government amounting to at least $20.56 billion (P983 billion). This figure makes the country the 4th largest recipient of ODA, next to other Asian countries like Indonesia, China, and India.

Through ODA, Japan has helped construct and improve infrastructure in the Philippines. These include major arterial highways, bridges, airports, railways, and ports.

A total of P118 billion ($2.4 billion) was allocated in 2010 for national highway projects, namely, the Philippine-Japan Friendship Highway, the Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway, Iloilo Airport, and the Mindanao Container Terminal, among others.

Just last November 2015, Japan announced it is lending the Philippines P93.46 billion ($1.9 billion) for a 36.7-kilometer railway, which will connect Tutuban, Manila, and Malolos, Bulacan to ease traffic congestion.

From 1998 to 2009, meanwhile, Japan accounted for at least 50% of major irrigation projects in the Philippines. Within that decade, 39,000 hectares out of the 82,000 hectares of major national irrigated areas were funded by Japan.

For health, Japan helped established the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM) in the country through a grant in 1981.

Helping areas in Mindanao is one of Japan’s priorities in PH

One of the main pillars of Japan’s ODA is assisting conflict areas in Mindanao.

According to PSA, 10 out of the 16 poorest regions in the country are in Mindanao. The consequences of long-term conflict between government forces and Moro rebels have led to poverty and limited access to basic services in these areas. 

Through various projects, Japan remains firm and committed to alleviating poverty and aiming for sustainable peace in Mindanao and the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

JICA started assistance efforts to the region in 2002 through the ARMM Social Fund for Peace, which implemented 32 infrastructure projects and 707 community development projects.

Meanwhile, JICA’s Comprehensive Capacity Development Project (CCDP-B) which addresses the requirements of the proposed Bangsamoro region in its various transition stages. In 2015, the aid agency started 20 quick impact projects worth P73 million ($1.5 million). (READ: Amid Bangsamoro bill uncertainty, Japan continues to aid Mindanao)

Filipina comfort women: still no direct apology from Japan

Filipinas were among the more than 200,000 Asian women forced into sex in Japanese military brothels. They were known as “comfort women”.

In the Philippines, several organizations have continuously lobbied for justice for the victims of wartime sex slavery, including Lila Pilipina, an organization of comfort women established in 1992. (READ: Comfort women to Aquino: Tackle our plight with Japanese emperor)

The group pleaded with President Benigno Aquino III to discuss their plight for justice during the state visit of the Japanese Emperor and Empress.

Their demands include a public apology, acknowledgment and inclusion of Filipina comfort women in history, and compensation from the Japanese government.

For its part, in 1993, Japan expressed its “sincere apologies and remorse to those who suffered immeasurable pain and incurable physical and psychological wounds as comfort women.”

It has, however, so far only reached out to South Korea regarding compensation. In December 2015, Japan agreed with South Korea on the issue of wartime sex slaves, including a “heartfelt apology” and $8.3 million in compensation. (READ: S. Korea, Japan strike deal on ‘comfort women’)

Out of 174 initial members, Lila Pilipina said that 104 women have died. As old age catches up with the remaining 70, only time will tell if they will live to see a formal apology from Japan. –

*$1 = P47

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Jodesz Gavilan

Jodesz Gavilan is a writer and researcher for Rappler and its investigative arm, Newsbreak. She covers human rights and impunity beats, producing in-depth and investigative reports particularly on the quest for justice of victims of former president Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs and war on dissent.