Shinzo Abe

[OPINION] Remembering Shinzo Abe as the Philippines, Japan sign military pact

Miriam Grace A. Go

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[OPINION] Remembering Shinzo Abe as the Philippines, Japan sign military pact
Manila and Tokyo signed the Reciprocal Access Agreement on July 8, the second death anniversary of former prime minister Shinzo Abe, who started the vision of equipping democratic allies in the region

In the flurry of news updates on Monday, July 8, Filipinos kept hearing these Japanese names: Foreign Minister Yoko Kamikawa, Defense Minister Minoru Kihara, here on behalf of Prime Minister Fumio Kishida. 

With President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. as their witness, Kamikawa signed with Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro Jr. the Reciprocal Access Agreement (RAA) between our two countries. 

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The name I remembered was Shinzo Abe.

On this exact day two years ago, Japan lost him to an assassin, depriving not just his country but also the region and the world of a statesman. 

Surrounded with neighbors who were encroaching on others’ territories, building nuclear arsenals, and playing hegemonic politics, he understood how peace and stability couldn’t be safeguarded without the democracies boosting each other militarily. Even if critics, mostly leftists, called him a hawk for that. 

So were it not for the vision he started, carried on by his party in power since his demise, we would not have had this RAA. Once ratified by the Philippine Senate and the Japanese Diet, the pact would allow the militaries of both countries to train and operate in each other’s soil with ease.

In December 2018, when I had the chance to speak with Abe-san and thank him for the assistance that Japan had been extending to the Philippines, he replied (in Nihongo), “That’s what you do for a friend.” 

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There was a time when the most that Japan could do was assist the Philippines’ security sector – the coast guard, navy, and air force particularly – in terms of training and capability building. But because Abe recognized the dangers of an increasingly aggressive China in the region, he pushed for a law that could finally allow Japan to donate second-hand defense equipment to developing countries. 

As soon as that defense donation ban was lifted in 2016, the first agreement that Tokyo crafted was with Manila, and the vessels and hardware have been coming in since. Military training aircraft, TC-90 patrol planes, patrol boats, rescue and patrol ships, reconnaissance aircraft, thousands of helicopter spare parts – you name what could boost the Philippines’ ability to protect its coasts, Japan gave what it could.

Political scientist Renato Cruz de Castro, an expert in security relations and defense and foreign affairs policy, at one point called Japan “the Philippines’ most reliable and important security partner.” The Philippines and Japan have been strategic partners since 2011.

And what I’ve always emphasized is, the Abe administration was doing all this for Japan’s allies while back home he was battling political maneuvers aimed at keeping Japan’s own self-defense forces weak

He had pushed for the revision of Japan’s postwar constitution – now 77 years old – which prohibits the nation from possessing weapons and deprives it of its right to collective self-defense. 

He did what he could. And it paid that he faced criticisms head-on and took the hit. Now, under the administration of PM Kishida, the increase of Japan’s defense budget to 2% of it GDP has been realized. It is under Kishida – who happened to be Abe’s foreign minister, and the longest serving at that – that we now have the RAA with Japan. 

The RAA with Manila – only Tokyo’s third such agreement – is special, observers say. It was signed less than a year since formal negotiations began in November 2023. In comparison, the RAAs with Australia and the United Kingdom were negotiated for years.  

Philippine Foreign Secretary Enrique Manalo, in a press conference after the joint bilateral meeting on Monday, said a “basic understanding” of how important the RAA was to both Manila and Tokyo helped push negotiations forward.

Some government sources tell our journalists that it’s Japan that needs this RAA more than the Philippines, given the possibility of a Taiwan crisis. It is well-known that Abe-san said a Taiwan contingency would be a Japan contingency. 

We should be slow to dismiss this newest pact that way. Taiwan is a country you can see from our northernmost province on a clear day – trouble in their strait is trouble for the Philippines. There are 150,000 overseas Filipino workers and students in there – big enough a population for a Chinese envoy to think it would create an impact if he threatened their safety

July 8, 2024: RAA signing. Abe’s death anniversary. It could be serendipity. It could also be a reminder that his legacy is the work for peace and stability that our generation should own and bring to completion. –

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Miriam Grace A. Go

Miriam Grace A Go’s areas of interest are local governance, campaigns and elections, and anything Japanese.