By Priam Nepomuceno

INCREASED EXCHANGES. Armed Forces of the Philippines chief Gen. Romeo Brawner Jr. (left) and Japan Self-Defense Forces Chief of Staff, Gen. Yoshihide Yoshida, shake hands during their bilateral meeting in Shangri-La The Fort Manila in Taguig City on Monday (July 8, 2024). The two countries signed the Reciprocal Access Agreement, which would facilitate mutual visits between Filipino and Japanese armed forces for training and joint exercises. (PNA photo by Yancy Lim)

MANILA – The newly signed Reciprocal Access Agreement (RAA) will lift restrictions on military exchanges between the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and Japan Self-Defense Forces (JSDF).

In a statement Monday night, Department of National Defense (DND) spokesperson Arsenio Andolong said the pact would allow the holding of “joint military exercises and disaster relief operations” both in the Philippines and Japan.

Before the signing of the RAA, Japanese troops could only participate in humanitarian assistance and disaster relief missions and act as observers in joint military exercises, such as the annual “Balikatan.”

He added that the RAA with the Philippines is Japan’s first with a member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

“The new bilateral defense agreement, which requires the concurrence of the Philippine Senate and ratification of Japan’s Diet, aims to pave the way for joint military exercises, and closer defense and security relations,” Andolong said.

In 2015, Japanese lawmakers passed a law enhancing the role of its troops, which had been restricted by its post-World War II Constitution.

This law allowed the JSDF to increase participation in international peacekeeping missions and defend its allies even when not under attack.

In a separate statement, AFP chief Gen. Romeo Brawner Jr. said the RAA would greatly boost military relations between Manila and Tokyo.

“The RAA will pave the way for joint military exercises, closer defense cooperation, and robust security relations between our forces. This agreement exemplifies our shared commitment to uphold a rules-based international order and secure a peaceful and prosperous region,” Brawner said.

‘Deepen security, maritime cooperation’

In a meeting with reporters on Monday night, Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs Deputy Press Secretary Mariko Kaneko said the RAA allows the development of defense capabilities and promotion of interoperability between the JSDF and the AFP through bilateral and/or multilateral exercises, and cooperation on defense equipment and technology.

“Every time we need to have like the visa clearance or we need to ask for the use of facilities in the Philippines, these kind of procedures by having these RAA, will be streamlined and so that we can have more joint exercises to strengthen defense capabilities,” she said.

Kaneko noted that specific activities for such exercises would still need to be determined by both countries but it will not include the establishment of Japanese bases in the Philippines.

Citing that both countries face law enforcement and security challenges, she said Japan has decided to continue the cooperation on strengthening maritime and air domain awareness with the Philippines and further promote cooperation on cybersecurity and open, interoperable, secure, reliable, and trusted telecommunications networks, including Open Radio Access Network.

“Minister Yoko Kamikawa, she has said that Japan would further deepen security and maritime cooperation, including through the provision of coastal surveillance radar system under the Official Security Assistance, the strengthening of coordination among coast guards, and the provision of additional patrol vessels under Official Development Assistance,” she said.

Apart from economic and security partnerships, Japan will further promote bilateral trade and investment relations to help the Philippines achieve upper middle-income country status.

Kaneko said Kamikawa visited the Metro Rail Transit Line 3 to check its condition to know other forms of assistance Japan could provide for the development of the infrastructure.

Japan and the Philippines, she said, have decided to introduce measures on visa exemption arrangements for their diplomatic passport holders and continue to promote people-to-people and cultural exchange through tourism.

As for multilateral cooperation, Japan also affirmed the importance of strengthening trilateral cooperation with the United States to complement existing multilateral mechanisms and to uphold international peace and security.

“This will enhance the strategic cooperation among Australia, Japan, the Philippines, and the United States and collaboration of the four countries in promoting the shared vision for a free and open Indo-Pacific through the conduct of the Maritime Cooperative Activity among the four armed or defense forces,” Kaneko said.

The RAA will also enhance the conduct of humanitarian activities and disaster relief operations between Japan and the Philippines, she added.

Crucial moment in PH-Japan ties

House of Representatives Speaker Martin Romualdez, meanwhile, lauded the signing of the landmark agreement between the Philippines and Japan as a “crucial moment for enhanced defense cooperation” amid regional challenges.

“The signing of the RAA signifies a crucial moment in Philippine-Japan relations, heralding a new era of strengthened defense cooperation amid evolving regional geopolitical challenges,” Romualdez said in a statement.

He said the RAA highlights the two nations’ “shared commitment” to regional stability and security, while also reaffirming the Philippines’ strategic partnership with Japan.

“This agreement reflects our shared values of peace, stability, and prosperity in the region,” he said.

Romualdez said the defense agreement also underscores the Philippines’ proactive approach to addressing security challenges and promoting a rules-based international order.

On Monday, President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. witnessed the signing of the Philippine-Japan RAA in Malacañang Palace.

Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro Jr. and Japanese Foreign Minister Kamikawa Yoko signed the agreement after Marcos met with the Japanese officials and delegation. (with a report from Filane Mikee Cervantes and Ma. Teresa Montemayor/PNA)