Table of Contents Hide
WHILE bitter and bloody battles were fought between Philippine and Japanese troops in the Second World War, animosity between the two countries has long been replaced by friendship. Japan has proven to be one of the Philippines’ most committed allies as Manila modernizes its security forces to keep its vast maritime territories free from encroachment.
This commitment was underscored by the signing of four documents during the official visit to Manila by Japan Prime Minister Fumio Kishida on November 3 to 4. One of these documents involved a ¥600-million grant from the Official Security Assistance (OSA), providing funding to the Philippine Navy (PN) to acquire a coastal radar system and enhance its “maritime domain awareness” (MDA) capability.
The signing was done in Malacañang and witnessed by President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. and Prime Minister Kishida.
Improved MDA capabilities are needed to ensure that Philippine sea lanes, which serve Japan, are adequately monitored by the country’s military for safety and security reasons.
Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief Gen. Romeo Brawner Jr. said this Japanese grant would do much to beef up the PN’s capabilities in protecting its vast waters.
“The coastal radar systems, funded through the OSA program, are a vital addition to the AFP’s maritime defense capabilities and will bolster our ability to monitor and protect our extensive coastline, ensuring the safety and security of our seas,” Brawner pointed out in a November 3 statement.
And through this support, the AFP chief said Japan showed its commitment towards regional peace and stability.
“We remain resolute in our determination to protect our maritime interests, and with the assistance of our allies, we continue to strive for peace and security in our region,” Brawner said.
Japan and Asia-Pacific allies
Meanwhile, the coastal radar grants show Japan is committed to beefing up the defensive capabilities of its allies in the Asia-Pacific Region, National Security Adviser Eduardo Año said on November 4.
“Moreover, the commitment of Japan to provide coastal surveillance radars and support through the Official Security Assistance program is a testament to their dedication to strengthening the security and deterrence capabilities of partner countries in the Asia-Pacific region,” Año noted.
The Philippines, he added, is very honored to be the first beneficiary of Japan’s OSA program which is aligned with ongoing efforts to improve the Philippines’ MDA capability, maintain regional stability, and protect the rules-based international order.
Año also noted that the ongoing trilateral cooperation between Japan, the Philippines and the United States is pivotal in safeguarding the freedom of the seas in the West Philippine Sea and promoting international law.
“Japan’s support in the form of equipment, technology cooperation and patrol vessels will further enhance our maritime law enforcement capabilities,” he noted.
Generous equipment donor
The OSA grant for the coastal radar is not the first time Japan helped the PN in terms of improving its capabilities as its government has previously donated five Beechcraft King Air TC-90 patrol aircraft to the country from 2017 to 2018.
The TC-90 was offered by Japan shortly after the Agreement Concerning the Transfer of Defense Equipment and Technology was finalized on February 29, 2016.
It was done to beef up the maritime surveillance capabilities of the Philippine Navy.
The first two TC-90s were donated by the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force on March 27, 2017, while the remaining three were handed over on March 26, 2018.
These aircraft have a range of more than 1,000 nautical miles, and a cruising speed of 226 knots and are capable of carrying eight passengers along with the pilot.
‘Reciprocal access agreement’
THE Philippines and Japan on November 3 announced that they have agreed to start negotiations for the so-called reciprocal access agreement (RAA).
The RAA is meant to merely facilitate and remove “lengthy procedures” should AFP personnel visit Japan or the Japan Self-Defense Forces visit the Philippines for possible training and exercises or humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations.
As a follow-through to their announcement of an RAA, Philippine and Japanese foreign ministers met at the sidelines of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) Summit in San Francisco on Wednesday and agreed to fast-track the negotiations for an accord similar to the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) both have with the Americans.
Año, in an earlier separate statement, said the RAA will boost Philippine and Japan military cooperation and contribute to regional security.
He added this will facilitate the procedures and set guidelines when Philippine forces visit Japan for training and joint exercises, and vice versa.
“We look forward to the negotiations and implementation of these agreements and initiatives, which will undoubtedly strengthen our partnership and contribute to a more secure and stable Indo-Pacific,” Año pointed out.
As this developed, Philippine and Japanese foreign ministers have agreed to fast track the RAA which is described as a Visiting Forces Agreement-like accord which both nations have with the US.
Department of Foreign Affairs Secretary Enrique Manalo and Japanese Foreign Minister Kamikawa Yoko agreed to “steadily promote bilateral cooperation” on security issues, including the “commencement of negotiation of the Reciprocal Access Agreement,” the Japanese Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
The bilateral meeting came two weeks after Kishida’s official visit to Manila where he and Marcos agreed to start negotiations for the RAA.
The RAA provides the legal basis for the countries to send soldiers to each other’s territory for drills and other operations.
Manalo said they want the negotiations for RAA to commence “as soon as possible.”
The Philippines and Japan both hosted US military bases and have similar status of VFA with the US.
Under the 1999 VFA between the Philippines and the US and the status of forces agreement between Japan and the US, the US government has jurisdiction over US soldiers deployed in the host country, including investigation and prosecution of crimes committed while “in the performance” of their duty.
The host government will only take over the criminal jurisdiction over American soldiers when the offense committed was done outside their official duties.
Meanwhile, the RAA between Japan and Australia allows the receiving state to have criminal jurisdiction over the visiting forces for offenses committed within the receiving state and “punishable by the law of the receiving state.”
5 more ships for PCG
AS this developed, the Department of Transportation (DOTr) on November 5 announced that five more ships would be funded by the Japanese government for use by the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG).
During his address at the joint special session of the Senate and House of Representatives on November 3, Kishida said 12 ships were already provided to the Philippines.
“The last pillar of the New [free and open Indo-Pacific] FOIP Plan is extending efforts for security and safe use of the sea to the air. Japan has hitherto provided 12 ships to the Coast Guard to play a part in improving the Philippines’ maritime security capability,” he added.
PCG maritime assets under Japan’s financing include 10 44-meter multi-role response vessels (MRRVs) and two 97-meter MRRVs.
On top of the 12 ships already delivered, five additional units of 97-meter MRRVs are intended to be financed by Japan, bringing the total to 17 ships.
PCG commandant Admiral Ronnie Gil Gavan said the agency was able to do a lot of maritime activities, thanks to the help of its Japanese counterpart.
He made this comment after the courtesy call of his counterpart, Japan Coast Guard (JCG) chief Admiral Shohei Ishii, at the PCG headquarters in Port Area, Manila, on November 4.
“Many of our accomplishments were possible because of the government of Japan’s strong support and generosity to the Philippines,” Gavan said.
During their meeting, Gavan and Ishii discussed the current regional maritime security situation and reaffirmed the PCG-JCG partnership in capability development and personnel exchange.
“Japan has provided us with numerous human resource development programs to include the Maritime Safety and Security Policy Program which honed our senior officers… and the acquisition of our capital assets which have truly been instrumental in our successful maritime activities,” the PCG chief added.
Gavan also said that the visit of the JCG chief reinforces the enduring ties that bind the two organizations and their countries.
“Rest assured that the PCG, your brother in service, will always be with you in promotion of common interests, overcoming our challenges, and in passing on the peaceful and beautiful seas to the next generation,” the PCG chief emphasized.
After the meeting, Gavan gave Ishii and the JCG delegation a tour onboard BRP Teresa Magbanua (MRRV-9701).
BRP Teresa Magbanua is one of the PCG’s biggest vessels to date, designed after JCG’s Kunigami-class vessels.
Since its commissioning into the Coast Guard service in May 2022, the BRP Teresa Magbanua has been active in conducting maritime security and maritime safety operations in the Philippines’ exclusive economic zones.
It also safeguards Filipino fishermen and upholds the country’s sovereign rights in the West Philippine Sea.
Moreover, the 97-meter MRRV performs search and rescue missions, as well as humanitarian assistance and disaster response efforts.