An appropriate visiting forces agreement (VFA) with Japan will benefit the Philippines, but the proposed military agreement with Tokyo as well as the planned trilateral security and defense pact with the United States should not provoke tensions in the disputed South China Sea, President Marcos said.
Marcos said he and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida had a brief discussion on the possible VFA between Manila and Tokyo during their bilateral meeting here on Thursday.
“I think, in general, if it will be of help to the Philippines in terms of protecting, for example, our fishermen, protecting our maritime territory,” Marcos said in an interview Sunday with the Philippine media delegation on board the presidential plane en route to Manila.
“If it’s going to help and if the results of our own studies, of course we will study that further if it really helps. If it really helps, I don’t see why we should not adopt it,” the President said.
“As long as we can achieve that, if it is appropriate, if it does not constitute the danger of increasing tensions, then it might be useful for the Philippines,” he added.
Philippine officials will continue talks on the proposed VFA with Japan as well as on the proposal from the Japanese government for a US-Japan-Philippines tripartite defense and security agreement, Marcos said.
“The proposal (tripartite agreement) is just in principle. We don’t really have details yet. Maybe sometime down the road, we’ll sit down with our Japanese counterparts and our American counterparts. Let’s see what it is that they really want,” he said.
Before concluding his working visit to Tokyo last Sunday, Marcos referred to the US and Japan as the Philippines’ closest allies.
He said Japan has been providing support to the Philippine Coast Guard in reinforcing its capabilities, including the improvement of port facilities at Subic Bay, a former US naval base.
Last Thursday, a new defense agreement that allows Japan to deploy its forces for humanitarian missions and disaster response in the Philippines was signed.
It is an arrangement Japanese officials hope to eventually upgrade to include joint military training, cooperation and mutual visits.
In a joint statement released on the same day, Marcos and Kishida “resolved” to increase the defense capabilities of their own countries and strengthen overall security cooperation with reciprocal port calls and aircraft visits and the transfer of more defense equipment and technology.
The joint statement said Japan will transfer air surveillance radar systems to the Philippines and provide related personnel training.
Manila and Tokyo first explored the idea of entering into a visiting forces treaty that would allow Japanese military access to the country’s military bases in 2015.
While he welcomed moves to bolster defense and security ties with the Philippines’ long-time allies, Marcos raised the need to be “careful” to prevent increasing tensions in the South China Sea.
“It’s a valid concern and it’s something we have to pay attention to so that we do not be seen as – anything that we do will not be seen as provocative to anyone. It will not have the effect of… the opposite effect of what we want, which is to make the tension higher,” he said.
China claims sovereignty over almost the entire South China Sea, which is believed to hold large reserves of oil and natural gas.
The Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei also have overlapping claims to parts of it. More than $5 trillion in trade passes through the South China Sea every year.
“I’m just thinking of the protection of our fishermen,” Marcos said in mixed Filipino and English. “We need to be clear that we in the Philippines are really… we are patrolling our waters and making sure that it is well-recognized – that this is really the Philippines’ maritime territory.”
Asked if the VFA could serve as a start for more defense agreements with other Asian nations that could lead to a NATO-like alliance in the region, Marcos said, “it might develop that way” but noted NATO is “very different” from Southeast Asia.
Formed in 1949 with the signing of the Washington Treaty, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization is a security alliance of 30 countries from North America and Europe. NATO’s fundamental goal is to safeguard the allies’ freedom and security by political and military means.
“Remember, there was already an attempt to have a NATO in Southeast Asia before? That’s why the ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) was established because Asian (nations) did not want an American-led alliance,” Marcos explained.
“We have partnerships with ASEAN as a body, they’re partnerships with member-states of ASEAN, and I think that’s what’s going to happen. We’ll just pursue all the multilateral and bilateral connections and relationships and agreements that we can so we have a lot of allies,” he said.??
Comfort women oppose triad
Meanwhile, Lila Pilipina, an organization of Filipino comfort women, raised its objection to the plans of the Philippine and Japanese governments to form a security triad with the US.
“We are concerned about the possibility of the Philippines being used as canon fodder in the US-China conflict. As our history has shown, both the Japanese occupation and the US bases’ presence in the country spawned massive cases of violence against Filipino women which both countries are yet to take responsibility for,” the group said in a press statement yesterday.
The group maintained that the Philippines “should take a non-aligned position with regard to the superpower conflict.”
“There is much to learn from the experiences of the Non-Aligned Movement of the ’60s as a way for smaller and weaker nations to form a bloc and spare their own peoples from the ravages of superpower military conflicts,” the group said.
Lila Pilipina also slammed Marcos for ignoring their call to demand justice for Filipino comfort women who were victims of sex slavery during the Japanese occupation.
“We are appalled that President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., instead of heeding our calls for him to take up the matter of justice for Filipino ‘comfort women’, has chosen to discuss war instead with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida during his recent visit to Japan,” it said.
Lila Pilipina maintained that the war reparations previously paid by the Japanese government did not include money for damages to Filipino victims of Japanese wartime sex slavery. – Elizabeth Marcelo