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Senate leader pushes for PHL-Japan military agreement; Marcos asks for easing of travel advisories

JAPAN and Philippine air force officers during a bilateral training on humanitarian assistance and disaster relief held at Clark Air Base in Pampanga in June 2022. — JAPANESE EMBASSY PHOTO

THE PHILIPPINES’ Senate leader is pushing for a military agreement with Japan, which will broaden ongoing exchange programs on maritime and emergency response operations.     

“Japan is already offering vital support to our coast guard, not just through vessels and equipment but also through other capacity-building opportunities such as training,” Senate President Juan Miguel F. Zubiri said in a statement on Thursday.   

Mr. Zubiri, who is part of President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr.’s delegation to Japan this week, is proposing a Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) between the Philippines and Japan, which he said “will strengthen our partnership even further.”  

A VFA gives one nation’s military force access to its partner country. The Philippines has one with the United States.  

“Peaceful diplomacy remains our foremost move toward conflict resolution, but we also have to be prepared for any eventuality,” he said, alluding to tensions in the contested South China Sea.   

“With Japan on our side, we will be able to empower our Coast Guard and Armed Forces in times of conflict,” he added. 

Mr. Marcos on Wednesday said there have been no formal talks yet about establishing a VFA with Japan. 

“We haven’t had formal talks about that yet,” Mr. Marcos told the press in Filipino. “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 proposal in that regard.”  

Mr. Zubiri said he pitched the idea to Japanese Ambassador to the Philippines Koshikawa Kazuhiko last year.  

“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 said. 

“Let us remember that Japan is just as disaster-prone as we are, and so they have made it a priority to ensure that their armed forces are well-equipped to conduct disaster management efforts and rescue operations,” he added. 

TOURISMMeanwhile, the Philippine government will ask Japan to lift or limit its travel advisories against tourism destinations in the country, according to the Department of Tourism. 

President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr. made the announcement during  a meeting with Japanese tourism stakeholders in Tokyo on Thursday, the Tourism department said in a statement.  

“We are working on lobbying to the Japanese government for the lifting or limiting of its travel advisory against the Philippines’ key travel destinations,” Mr. Marcos said, noting that the two countries “must first be open to each other’s people” to further deepen ties.  

The Philippine leader also pushed for educational tourism between the two countries “with special focus on the exchange of students and professionals in tourism-related institutions,” the Presidential Communications Office said in a separate statement.  

Mr. Marcos invited Japanese students to study English in the Philippines, it said.  

The tourism industry has “shifted its gaze to becoming more than just a promotion arm of the government, but also to ensuring that travel is not only convenient, connected, and equal for travelers, but as well as for locals who are living and preserving our invaluable key and emerging tourist destinations,” he said at the meeting.   

“With this in mind, this government has set the direction to harness the development of tourism in key tourism destinations,” he added.   

As of Jan. 30, Japan ranked sixth in the list of Philippines’ foreign visitors, according to Mr. Marcos.  

In 2019, before the coronavirus pandemic disrupted global travel, Japan was the Philippines fourth biggest source of foreign visitors after South Korea, China, and the US.—Alyssa Nicole O. Tan and Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza

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