A long-awaited pact with Japan | Inquirer Opinion

A long-awaited pact with Japan

/ 05:08 AM December 26, 2023

A note of urgency crept into President Marcos’ voice when he spoke in Tokyo last week about the progress of the proposed Reciprocal Access Agreement (RAA) between Japan and the Philippines.

“All of this, as soon as possible—yesterday, if not, sooner,” the President said with uncharacteristic flourish, shortly before he flew home from the Japanese capital.

Whether it was excitement or impatience, one could scarcely blame Mr. Marcos for looking forward to the completion of the security accord with Tokyo, whose troops last visited our nation as invaders under imperial Japan during World War II.

In spite of that wretched chapter in our history, the Philippines has found in modern Japan a strong and reliable friend, a steady provider of official development assistance, and a trusted ally from whom it might one day seek aid against external—and common—threats.


Third visiting forces deal

Since November, Manila and Tokyo have been talking in earnest about a visiting forces pact that would pave the legal basis for their armed forces to enter each other’s territory for joint training and exercises, among other purposes. The RAA creates a framework of rules governing the movement of soldiers and goods to and from either side, leaving no room for error or ambiguity.

Japan has one with the United Kingdom and Australia, but the Philippines would be its first partner in Asia.

The same is true of the Philippines, which has entered similar arrangements with the United States through the Visiting Forces Agreement, ratified in October 1998, and with Australia through the Status of Visiting Forces Agreement, ratified in July 2012.

Giving the go-ahead to the negotiations for the RAA, Mr. Marcos and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida recognized “the benefits of having this arrangement both to our defense and military personnel and to maintaining peace and security in our region.”


PH as a ‘battleground’

Mr. Marcos noted that the talks had been in the works long before recent flareups in the West Philippine Sea between Manila and Beijing, but he acknowledged that “the incidents in the past few couple of months [have] certainly sharpened our focus when it comes to that.”

Some objections have already been raised against the RAA.


In November, Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel III said the deal was reciprocal in name but one-sided in reality.

“They just really want the Philippines to be a station of the military of other countries,” he told dzBB radio, adding: “We don’t want to make the Philippines a battleground. We should not agree with that … because we are attracting ‘return fire’.”

House members France Castro and Arlene Brosas described the RAA as an extension of the US’ “war machine in the region,” with “Japan serving as a junior partner of the US and the Philippines playing a role as a vital cog.”

These arguments are valid and legitimate—in an ideal world.

In an ideal world, the Philippines would enjoy true parity with its defense partners, keep enemies at bay on the strength of international law alone, and maintain a foreign policy that’s independent and beholden to no superpower.

But we don’t live in such a world. We live in a world where an aggressor is claiming an entire sea including the waters within our country’s exclusive economic zone, depriving our fishers of their traditional fishing grounds, and building artificial islands so close to our shores.

It’s a world where a nation’s might determines its place in the global order, and where geopolitical alliances spell the difference between war and peace.

Toothless, shackled

Who can we turn to, if not our allies? The United Nations has proved toothless in preventing conflict from breaking out in Ukraine and Israel, much less in stopping its escalation. The Association of Southeast Asian Nations? Even more powerless, shackled by its noninterference policy.

By inviting friends to take up spaces within our territory, the Philippines deters its enemies from forcibly taking those spaces in their stead. It is not the ideal choice but it is the intelligent one, given our current limitations and our adversary’s rising strength.

Last week, China’s foreign ministry warned: “We hope the Philippines will realize that tying itself to some major power and forcing China to back down on issues concerning China’s core interests will lead nowhere.”

On the contrary, by tying itself to major powers, the Philippines can accomplish what it cannot do by itself—defending its rights against the neighborhood bully.

For all its bluster and bravado, Beijing understands this perfectly well.

As Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro Jr. has noted, in the eyes of the international community, China is alone in its expansive claims in the South China Sea, while the Philippines, the victor in the 2016 arbitration case against Beijing, enjoys the support of like-minded partners.

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It’s one advantage we cannot risk losing, and for that alone, this long-awaited pact with Tokyo must come to fruition.

TAGS: Bongbong Marcos, Japan

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