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VFA with Japan? Marcos says Philippines should not appear provocative

TOKYO — Amid talks of the Philippines possibly forming a Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with Japan just as it has with the United States, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. said that such a pact—which would allow Japanese troops to conduct military exercises and exchanges with the country’s armed forces—should not provoke tensions with China.

“I think in general if it will be of help to the Philippines in terms of protecting, for example our fishermen, protecting our maritime territory, if it’s going to help, then that—if the results of our own study, siyempre pag-aaralan pa natin ‘yan eh kung talagang makakatulong. If kung talagang makakatulong, I don’t see why we should not adopt it,” Marcos told reporters in an interview with reporters aboard the PR001 flight back to Manila on Sunday.

“Now there is also the—we have to be careful also because we do not want to appear provocative. Parang imbes na pinapakalma natin ang sitwasyon sa South China Sea ay ginagawa natin mas magiging mainit, 'di ba. That’s not what we want,” the President said.

Marcos said that he and Japan Prime Minister Fumio Kishida “very briefly” discussed a possible VFA between the two Asian countries.

“[T]hat’s all under study… it depends really on the Philippines if we want to go and accelerate the joint [exercises], what we have already. Mayroon tayong agreement diyan. That’s why we have exercises together… Binigyan tayo ng barko ng Japanese para sa Coast Guard para tulungan din ‘yung ating pagbantay,” he said.

In 2015, Japan and the Philippines entered into a defense cooperation and exchanges agreement, allowing Japanese troops to conduct humanitarian assistance and disaster response exercises only and training exchanges between Japanese and Filipino soldiers.

The two countries also have an agreement that allows the transfer of Japanese military equipment to the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

According to the President, the Japanese government is eyeing to make improvements in the base located in Subic.

"So what was really mentioned was that can we now move forward with that? Ang kanilang proposal is to do some improvements sa Subic also for the Coast Guard para mas maganda ang ating mga bases (Japan's proposal is to do some improvements in Subic to develop our bases)," Marcos said.

"But the problem is that again it cannot be considered as you will know a foreign base. So we will still have to finalize the details on that on how they want to do it. And kung agreeable tayo, ‘di ‘yun ang gugustuhin natin (we will go with what's agreeable on our part)," he added.

Asked if a defense pact with Japan will result in other agreements with other nations, Marcos said "it might develop that way," however, it is not as similar with NATO or the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

"It might develop that way. But NATO is very different from Southeast Asia. You know, remember there was already an attempt to have a NATO in Southeast Asia, may SEATO dati. Kaya nabuo ‘yung ASEAN eh kasi ayaw ng mga Asian ng American-led na alliance. So kailangan members lang ng ASEAN (That's how ASEAN was established because Asians don't like an American-led alliance). So that’s the…" Marcos said.

"But yeah Europe is very different from… Europe is different from Southeast Asia. So maybe not quite like NATO. But siyempre it looks like we are strengthening, talagang we are strengthening our partnerships. Iba-iba naman," he added.

According to the US Mission to the NATO, the organization is a security alliance of 30 countries from North America and Europe which fundamental goal is to safeguard the Allies’ freedom and security by political and military means.

Meanwhile, the Philippines and US signed a VFA in 1998, allowing American troops to conduct military exercises in the country, complementing the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty wherein the US is committed to aid the Philippines in case of an attack.

“Ang iniisip ko lang ay ‘yung ating mga fishermen kailangan maprotektahan, kailangan maliwanag na tayo sa Pilipinas talagang we are patrolling our waters and making sure that it is well-recognized na ‘yan ang talagang territory talaga ng—maritime territory talaga ng Pilipinas ‘yan,” Marcos said.

“That’s the intent. As long as we—if we can achieve that, if it is appropriate, if it does not constitute the danger of increasing tensions, then it might be useful for the Philippines,” the President said.

The chief executive also said that Japan is proposing “some improvements” in Subic, particularly to build a facility for the Philippine Coast Guard.

“But the problem is that again it cannot be considered as you will know a foreign base. So we will still have to finalize the details on how they want to do it. And kung agreeable tayo, ‘di ‘yun ang gugustuhin natin,” the President said.

Marcos concluded his five-day official trip in Japan, which he said would bring a new decade of partnership between the two countries.

The President said his Japan trip focused on strategic partnership between the two countries, which strengthen relations regarding defense and security relations, agriculture, information and communication technology, along with cooperation and bilateral agreement frameworks for mutually beneficial collaboration in “many areas.” — with reports from Anna Felicia Bajo/BM/AOL, GMA Integrated News