THE Philippines said Saturday it had rebuilt a “strong friendship” with former foe Japan as Emperor Akihito said in an address marking the 70th anniversary of his country’s surrender in 1945 that Japan felt “deep remorse” over its actions during the Second World War.
Many Filipinos still have long, difficult memories of the Japanese Occupation from 1942 through 1945, but Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario said in a statement on Saturday that Japan “acted with compassion” after the war.
“We must never again repeat the devastation of war,” Del Rosario said in a statement on the 70th year anniversary of the end of World War II.
The Philippines has been working with the international community to rebuild after the war, and “in establishing and promoting international norms and institutions, as enshrined in the United Nations Charter, that help ensure global peace, stability, and prosperity,” Del Rosario said.
“Since the middle of the 20th century, the Philippines’ relationship with Japan, in particular, has been characterized by trust and unfailing support in so many fields, as Japan has acted with compassion and in accordance with international law, and has more actively and more positively engaged the region and the world,” he added.
“This 70-year history demonstrates to the world that through their relentless efforts, peoples of two countries can attain a remarkable achievement in overcoming issues of the past and establishing strong friendship,” he said.
Japan is now the Philippines biggest source of development assistance and the two countries have also been strengthening defense cooperation in the face of separate territorial disputes with China.
Today, the Philippines’ biggest trading partner is Japan, with about $1 billion in exports and about $500 million in imports. Japan is also the top Official Development Assistance lender, holding 36 percent of all development loans.
Del Rosario made the remarks shortly before Akihito made a rare statement of Japan’s “deep remorse.”
‘‘Reflecting on our past and bearing in mind the feelings of deep remorse over the last war, I earnestly hope that the ravages of war will never be repeated,” Akihito said.
Akihito also emphasized that Japan’s peace and prosperity stand on “the people’s tireless endeavors and their earnest desire for peace,” and renewed his war-renouncing pledge.
Del Rosario’s comments were in stark contrast to reactions from China and other Asian victims of Japan’s wartime aggression.
Beijing called Abe’s statement a non-apology while North Korea derided it as an “unpardonable mockery of the Korean people”.
South Korean President Park Geun-Hye said the speech “left much to be desired” and stressed the need for Japan to resolve the issue of Asian women forced to work in Japanese wartime brothels.
A Philippine group representing dozens of former sex slaves denounced Abe’s pronouncement that future Japanese generations should not be compelled to apologise for past aggression.
“He wants a gag of silence. That is unacceptable. You can’t commit a crime and set conditions... Our grandmothers didn’t set conditions when they were victimized,” Rechilda Extremadura, executive director of Lila Pilipina, told AFP.
Only 70 of the estimated 1,000 Filipina “comfort women” are still alive, many of them ill and in their twilight years, she said.
The women are demanding an “unequivocal apology”, an acknowledgement of the war brothels policy and compensation from the Japanese government, she said.
“I am very angry because Japan does not want to close this chapter. Will they wait for another 80 years? 100 years?” she said.
Earlier this year, the Philippine and Japan for the first time signed an agreement to strengthen defense ties, particularly on maritime security as they each face China over disputed territory in the South and East China seas.
The Philippines has expressed support for any relaxing of Japan’s post-World War II pacifist constitution that would allow it greater involvement in external defense.