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Zubiri hopes Marcos will start VFA talks with Japan PM

Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri is hoping that President Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr. will start the initial discussion on a possible Visiting Forces Agreement with Japan during the latter's meeting with Prime Minister Kishida Fumio.

The Senate chief made the statement as he joined Marcos in his five-day official visit to Japan.

In a statement, Zubiri said the upcoming meeting between Marcos and Kishida is an "opportune time" to go into initial talks about the agreement.

He recalled discussing the idea of pursuing a VFA with Japan in a meeting with Ambassador Koshikawa Kazuhiko last year.

“It makes strategic sense. Japan is an ally, and with ongoing territorial disputes over our waters, we stand to benefit from stronger security cooperation with our allies," Zubiri was quoted as saying.

"Given all the benefits we stand to gain from the VFA, I am hopeful that we will be able to begin formal discussions about it soon, and I am pretty certain that we will be able to garner enough support in the Senate for it," he added.

While Japan is already offering vital support to the Philippine Coast Guard, through vessels, equipment and other capacity-building opportunities such as training, Zubiri said forging a VFA will "strengthen our partnership even further."

“Peaceful diplomacy remains our foremost move toward conflict resolution, but we also have to be prepared for any eventuality. With Japan on our side, we will be able to empower our Coast Guard and Armed Forces in times of conflict," he said.

“Apart from the VFA being crucial to building up our security and defense, it will also be massively helpful to us in times of natural calamities and disasters,” he added.

Zubiri noted that Japan, like the Philippines, is a disaster-prone country and they have made sure that their armed forces are well-equipped to conduct disaster management efforts and rescue operations.

"Our armed forces can use their disaster management training and knowledge, to help us become a more resilient country as well," he said.

In an interview with reporters while aboard a flight to Japan Wednesday, Marcos said there are no formal talks yet regarding a possible VFA with the East Asian country.

“I don’t know if Prime Minister Kishida will take it up with me on this trip. But, so far, there have not been any formal proposals in that regard,” he said.

But Marcos mentioned that Japan has been supporting the PCG's maritime security mandate by providing patrol vessels.

“Siguro, sa kanilang palagay, the next step is to do the improvements and rehabilitation sa Subic para sa Coast Guard because, naturally, the reason behind all this is that they would like to have more patrols along—up and down the South China Sea, para naman we can assure the freedom of passage,” Marcos said.

Marcos said his five-day visit in Tokyo is expected to forge closer ties between the Philippines and Japan in ensuring security in the Asia-Pacific region.

“Japan wants to develop more and make our relationship even more robust and closer, especially in that regard," he said.
“This is a new element to our relationship because we are now talking about the security of the region,” he added.—AOL, GMA Integrated News