JAPANESE Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Thursday pledged 1 trillion yen or the equivalent of $8.66 billion in aid to the Philippines spread over five years, and welcomed President Rodrigo Duterte’s move to improve relations between the Philippines in China amid a territorial dispute in the South China Sea.
Abe, who landed in Manila on Thursday as part of his six-day, four-nation trip to the Asia-Pacific region, is the first head of government to officially visit the Philippines under the Duterte administration, and is the highest ranking government official to visit Davao City, which is home to a large expat Japanese community.
“For the further development of the Philippines, we will create business opportunities through ODA and private sector investments which together will be of the order of one trillion yen over the next five years,” Abe said in a speech at Malacañang Palace on Thursday.
Abe said that the aid will come in the form of official development assistance (ODA) and private-sector investments geared toward infrastructure projects such as construction of subways.
To facilitate the disbursement of these grants, a joint committee on economic cooperation and infrastructure will be launched to provide a strong underpinning for Japan’s commitment to Philippines’ nation building, Duterte said.
Duterte said Manila and Tokyo’s economic agencies were instructed to “seek new areas for collaboration” and work for the fulfillment of agreements signed during his visit to Japan last year.
“We are encouraging our business sectors to intensify two-way trade and investment,” Duterte said.
The grant is one of Japan’s largest aid packages given to any country, and tops the five-year package of more than 800 billion yen for Myanmar announced last year.
Foreign Press Secretary Yasuhisa Kawamura said Tokyo is “very eager” to promote cooperation between the two countries, particularly in creating an environment conducive to exchange of business opportunities.
“The bottom line of this announcement is that Japan is very eager of this cooperation for the business and the economic development of the Philippines by utilizing all those available resources,” Kawamura said.
“At the same time, the prime minister underlined that this is a two-way street. This is not just a one-way of inflow of investments of money from Japan... I’d like to emphasize that a business-friendly environment on the side of the Philippines is also necessary. We’ll very much appreciate it if the Philippine officials and the private sector will cooperate with us,” he added.
The exchanges will involve the promotion and use of Japanese technology and expertise for the improvement of infrastructure in the country, particularly in building railways that will connect the capital to nearby provinces, such as the 38-kilometer Tutuban to Malolos railway, Malolos to Clark railway link and the first 100 kilometers of rail system in Mindanao.
In his visit to Japan last year, Duterte secured $1.85 billion in investments, including deals with Toyota Motors Corp. and Mitsubishi Motors.
Abe’s visit came months after Duterte visited Japan.
Abe pledged to provide support for the peace and development of Mindanao, including a decision to start studies for the urban development and flood control of Davao City.
“Japan will likewise work with Duterte in his fight on countering illegal drugs, particularly on tapping the private sector to assist in the improvement of related facilities, formulation of treatment programs and in other areas,” Abe said.
Five agreements were exchanged between Manila and Tokyo, mainly on agriculture, maritime security and counterterrorism:
-Exchange of Notes on the Grant Aid Economic and Social Development Program, which involves the grant of 600 million yen or $5.2 million for high speed boats and other counter terrorism equipment for the Philippine Coast Guard
-Memorandum of Cooperation (MOC) on the Low Carbon Growth Partnership/Joint Crediting Mechanism, which involves the creation of a joint committee to establish the basis through which the Philippines and Japan will promote investments and the use of technologies, products, systems, services, and infrastructure to achieve low carbon growth in the Philippines
-MOC between the PCG and the Japan Coast Guard, which involves maritime cooperation to promote maritime safety, security, and marine environment protection (joint exercises, visits by patrol vessels and aircraft, capacity enhancement)
-MOC between the Presidential Communications Operations Office and Japan’s Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications for the proof of concept and testing of road traffic information system through data broadcasting
-Loan Agreement and Guarantee Letter for Harvesting Agribusiness opportunities through Robust and Vibrant Entrepreneurship Supportive of Peaceful Transformation (HARVEST). Harvest is a five-year project of the Land Bank of the Philippines which will finance eligible investments of agribusiness enterprises, farmers’ organizations or cooperatives in support of agriculture and fisheries production in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.
With the Philippines poised to take over the leadership of the 10-nation Association of Southeast Asian Nations this year, Abe said he welcomes the improved relations between Manila and Beijing but reminded Duterte on the importance of heeding the arbitration ruling won by the country last year.
In the past few months, Tokyo expressed its growing concerns over the rise of China’s influence in the disputed region.
“I welcome the fact that President Duterte is making efforts to improve Sino-Philippine relations in light of the arbitral award,” Abe said.
“The significance of the rule of law, peaceful resolution of disputes and non-militarization has been confirmed at Asean [Association of Southeast Asian Nations]-related meetings last year. Keeping in mind this year’s Asean affiliated meetings, we affirmed the importance of these.”
Abe said the South China Sea issue is “linked directly to regional peace and stability and is of concern to the entire international community.”
Since assuming the presidency, Duterte has made efforts to forge closer ties with China, even offering to set aside Manila’s legal victory against Beijing over the South China Sea.
Japan, while not a claimant to the South China Sea, relies heavily on the unimpeded passage through the resource-rich area. Its key ally, the US, has also repeatedly stressed the importance of maintaining freedom of navigation in the sea lane.
Duterte’s warm treatment of China was in contrast to his repeated tirades to the Philippines’ long-time ally, the United States, which had called out the Filipino president for leading an illegal drug crackdown that has claimed the lives of thousands.
Kawamura said its relationship with the US remains a fundamental part and a cornerstone of its foreign policy, as its maintains to provide prosperity and security in the region.
Despite Manila’s apparent pivot to Beijing, the minister said that they will maintain this position of non-militarization in the disputed waters, as they work closely with its allies in the region.
“Japan’s stance ever since then is to continue dialogue and consultation with Asean and China. It should be carried out that there should be no militarization in the region as we also seek peaceful resolution of these disputes,” he said.
Japan would also join the United States and the Philippines as an observer in the continuation of the Balikatan exercises this year, Kawamura said.
Japan has a separate dispute with China in the East China Sea, where tension has been high in recent months due to Beijing’s deployment of aircraft over the contested waters. Tokyo is currently in control of the uninhabited rocks in the disputed East China Sea.
A July 2016 ruling of a Hague-based tribunal invalidated China’s so-called “nine-dash line” claim to the resource-rich sea. China does not recognize the ruling and says its island-building in the Spratlys is within its sovereign rights.
In Davao, Abe’s wife Akie will visit the Japanese Cemetery tagged as the “Little Tokyo” in Mintal.
Akie will pay tribute to the 300 Japanese soldiers buried there during the Japanese Occupation from 1943 to 1945.
The Japanese Cemetery was maintained by the city government and was established as the Little Tokyo of Davao in 2009.
It was part of the former Abaca plantation owned by Japanese businessman Kyosaburo Ota, who brought the first Japanese workers in the city in 1903.
Davao historian Librada Rufu said the Japanese workers were brought into the city to work on the Abaca plantation; later on they owned the greater part of the Abaca plantations in the different parts of the city.
Rufu said that the city was tagged as the Little Tokyo of the Philippines because of the numbers of Japanese here.
She said that the economy of Davao started from the Osaka bazaar established by the Japanese along the corner Anda and San Pedro Street.
The first printing press of the city was established by the Japanese in the old public market in the city which is now the Boys Scout compound, Rufu said.
“The economy of the city was really started by the Japanese, aside from those abaca plantations, bazaars and other businesses, the Japanese also put up a hospital in Mintal. They even employed Filipino workers to work there,” she said.
Abe will be flying to Davao City, where he is expected to meet with members of the business community and speak with Duterte on international issues. He will leave the country in the afternoon and proceed to Australia, to be followed by Indonesia and Vietnam.
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