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PH senators discuss harassment in WPS, RCEP with Japan PM Kishida

Philippine senators on Wednesday discussed the harassment against Filipinos in the West Philippine Sea as well as the newly-ratified Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) in a meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Kishida Fumio.

Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri said the meeting with Japan’s top leader is part of the Philippine delegation’s official parliamentary visit to Tokyo.

In a statement, Zubiri said their visit to Japan came right when “the strategic partnership between the Philippines and Japan is evolving to even higher levels, as we adapt to the heightened global security situation, particularly the continuing maritime tensions, in our region.”

“On a daily basis, our Philippine Coast Guard records cases of harassment from foreign actors, which is depriving our country of its sovereign right to use its exclusive economic zone. That is why the Philippines is thankful for Japan’s strong support of the 2016 Arbitration Ruling and for providing us modern ships and other equipment such as radars to monitor our skies and seas,” Zubiri was quoted as saying.

“With almost half of the Senate here with us, we hope to show to you the importance that we accord to our strategic partnership,” he added.

Zubiri expressed support anew to the possible Philippine-Japan Reciprocal Access, an agreement similar to the Philippine-United States’ Visiting Forces Agreement.

“This visit, particularly the briefing from the Ministry of Defense, has given us a clearer understanding of the current defense and security realities facing both our nations,” he said.

“These meetings have also prompted us to act with greater urgency to support a possible Philippines-Japan Reciprocal Access Agreement that will boost the inter-operability of our armed forces,” Zubiri added.

The call for a VFA-like deal with Japan was first raised by Zubiri during President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr.’s official visit to the East Asian country in February.

This was reiterated last Tuesday during a meeting between Philippine and Japanese lawmakers.

Further, Zubiri informed Kishida about the Senate’s concurrence to the ratification of the RCEP, which he said is expected to bolster the trade and industry exchanges between the two countries.

During the meeting, Zubiri also invited Kishida to address the Philippine Senate and the House of Representatives in a joint session.

In February, Marcos invited Kishida, Japanese Emperor Naruhito and Empress Masako to visit the Philippines.

Joining Zubiri in Japan were Majority Leader Joel Villanueva, Deputy Majority Leader JV Ejercito, Senators Sonny Angara, Imee Marcos, Pia Cayetano, Sherwin Gatchalian, Grace Poe, Nancy Binay, and Mark Villar. —Hana Bordey/KBK, GMA Integrated News