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Philippines, Japan start talks on reciprocal access agreement

President Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr. and Japanese Prime Minister Kishida Fumio have decided to start negotiations for the proposed Reciprocal Access Agreement between Philippines and Japan forces.

Marcos during Kishida's visit to Malacañang adverted to the benefits of the deal in "maintaining peace and stability in our region."

"I also would like to recall our commitment to work on a framework for our status of visiting forces or the proposed Reciprocal Access Agreement, RAA, with Japan," Marcos said.

"We are cognizant of the benefits of having this arrangement, both to our defense and military personnel and to maintaining peace and stability in our region," he added.

Kishida said Japan would work with the Philippines "to strengthen cooperation in maintaining and strengthening a free and open international order based on the rule of law amid complex crises facing the international community."

“Japan and the Philippines are both maritime nations and strategic partners sharing a fundamental principles and values,” Kishida said.

OSA for radar system

The Philippines and Japan during the bilateral meeting also signed an Official Security Assistance grant aid worth 600 million yen (approximately P235.5 million).

Under the agreement Japan will provide the Philippines with a coastal radar system meant to improve the Philippine Navy's defense awareness capability.

The other agreements signed in the presence of Marcos and Kishida were:

  • The Exchange of Notes concerning the provision of construction equipment for Road Network Improvement/Implementation and Disaster Quick Response Operation under the Economic and Social Development Programme;
  • Memorandum of Cooperation in the field of Tourism; and
  • Memorandum of Cooperation on Mining Sector between the Department of Environment and Natural Resources of the Republic of the Philippines and the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry of Japan.

Both the Philippines and Japan, two of the United States' closest Asian allies, have taken a strong line against what they see as aggressive behavior by Chinese vessels amid decades-old disputes over maritime sovereignty.

Japan does not have any claim to the South China Sea, but has a separate maritime dispute with China in the East China Sea.

Akin to the VFA

The proposed reciprocal access pact will be like the Visiting Forces Agreement the Philippines has with the United States.

Signed in 1999, the VFA is the legal framework that allows US forces to visit the country temporarily for military exercises and provide humanitarian and disaster-response assistance.

Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro has said the key security pact with Japan would boost defense cooperation amid concerns over escalating tensions in the South China Sea.

"Joint sail is okay but they really need to participate in planning so I'm fast-tracking it as much as possible," Teodoro had said.

Only the United States and Australia have similar security and defense accords with the Philippines.

The 1987 Philippine Constitution prohibits foreign troops from establishing permanent military bases in the country.

Tokyo has reciprocal access agreements with Britain and Australia, and also hosts the biggest concentration of US forces abroad.

Training with allies

Senator Joel Villanueva, one of the senators who recently visited Japan, said on Thursday that the Kishida aimed "to lay down the groundwork for a new security treaty with our country the Philippines."

He also mentioned the expansion of Japan's joint training with allies in the Indo-Pacific.

Kishida in Malacañang expressed serious concern about the security situation in the South China Sea, saying that the aggressions there were "unacceptable."

"We shared serious concerns about the situation in the East China Sea and the South China Sea and that attempt to unilaterally change the status quo by force is unacceptable," Kishida said.

Kishida said he and Marcos also discussed the situation in North Korea and Myanmar.

"And we want to secure a route where the dignity of the people can be maintained and secure peace and safety in the world through international cooperations, such as cooperations that we have in the Philippines," Kishida said. —With a report from Reuters/NB, GMA Integrated News