By Priam Nepomuceno and Darryl John Esguerra

DEFENSE AGREEMENT. President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. (standing, center) witnesses the signing of the Reciprocal Access Agreement (RAA) between the Philippines and Japan at Malacañan Palace on Monday (July 8, 2024). The new defense deal would facilitate mutual visits between Filipino and Japanese armed forces for training and joint exercises. (PNA photo by Darryl John Esguerra)

MANILA – The Philippines and Japan on Monday signed the Reciprocal Access Agreement (RAA) that would facilitate mutual visits between Filipino and Japanese armed forces for training and joint exercises.

Japanese Foreign Minister Kamikawa Yoko and Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro Jr. signed the treaty documents in the presence of President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. in a ceremony at Malacañan Palace.

The treaty will have to be ratified by the respective legislative bodies of the Philippines and Japan before it comes into force.

In a courtesy call by Kamikawa and Japan Defense Minister Kihara Minoru to the President, Marcos expressed elation over the signing of the new defense deal.

“Your presence here increases our confidence in the importance that the Japanese government puts on this very important agreement that we have. And I’m very glad that we have come to this day,” Marcos said.

For her part, Kamikawa said the signing of the RAA is “a great achievement” for the two countries deepening bilateral relations.

Meanwhile, Kihara touted the leadership of Marcos and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida in strengthening the ties of the two countries.

He also vowed to continue working with Teodoro to further enhance the defense cooperation and exchanges of the Philippines and Japan.

The Philippines has been expanding engagements with its allies while also beefing up the capabilities of the Armed Forces of the Philippines amid China’s aggression in the West Philippine Sea.

It has similar defense pacts with the United States and Australia, while another defense deal is being pursued with France.

Upgraded ties

Teodoro, meanwhile, said the partnership between the Philippines and Japan has been “upgraded one level higher”, following the signing of the RAA.

“This is another milestone in our shared endeavor to ensure a rules-based international order to ensure peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific and particularly in our region. Once again we thank the Government of Japan for the assistance rendered to us in several fields,” Teodoro said during his bilateral meeting with Kihara held at the Shangri-la The Fort, Manila in Taguig City.

Teodoro said this landmark deal has added security to the “traditional fields” where Manila and Tokyo have strong ties, particularly economy and trade.

“By adding the vital aspect of security which creates a holistic dimension or adds a holistic dimension to our bilateral relations. It will also add to the multilateral efforts that both our governments are doing to make sure that our region, with respect to international law, we (worked) hand in hand in creating a global architecture which will ensure sustainable peace and stability particularly in our area,” Teodoro said.

The DND chief said Manila is looking forward to more confidence-building measures between the Japanese Self-Defense Force and the Armed Forces of the Philippines, along with their respective defensive departments.

Meanwhile, Kihara extended his sincere appreciation for the warm welcome he had received from the Teodoro and the DND.

“The relationship between Japan and the Philippines has seen great strides in the field of defense cooperation and exchanges and I welcome the signature of the Japan-Philippines RAA which took place moments ago, representing the deepening cooperative relationship between our two nations,” he added.

Kihara also noted the Philippines and other Southeast Asian nations are situated in a very strategically important region placed in a key junction of Japan’s sea lanes.

No significant differences

In a press briefing after the 2 +2 meeting of Manila and Tokyo’s top defense and foreign affairs officials at the Shangri-la The Fort Manila in Taguig City, Teodoro said the RAA has no significant differences with Philippines’ Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with Australia and the United States.

“It is just tailored to conform to the requirements of the domestic law of each country, that is the only difference. In essence, everything remains the same,” he added.

ALLIES. Top defense and foreign officials of the Philippines and Japan shake hands during their bilateral meeting at the Shangri-la The Fort Manila in Taguig City on Monday (July 8, 2024). Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro Jr. (right) said the newly-signed Reciprocal Access Agreement (RAA) between the Philippines and Japan would greatly enhance interoperability between their militaries. (PNA photo by Priam Nepomuceno)

Teodoro also said the “way forward” for the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) is to come up with mutually acceptable confidence-building measures “between and amongst themselves which will include greater training and interoperability exercises.”

In his prepared statement, the DND chief said the signing of the RAA will put “flesh” into the already robust bilateral relations between the Philippines and Japan.

“It will be a great step towards the concretization of trusts and now comes the work of building confidence (among) the members of the JSDF (Japan Self-Defense Forces) and the AFP. it will also lead to greater interoperability, exchanges of information, and other cooperative activities both bilaterally and multilaterally under the aegis of a rules-based international order and the upholding of the essence, principles, and concepts of international law particularly, UNCLOS (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea),” he added.

Through the RAA, the DND chief said the Philippines and Japan can further increase their partnership on humanitarian assistance and disaster response measures.

Meanwhile, the National Security Council welcomed the signing of the landmark pact.

“This agreement, achieved in less than a year of dedicated negotiations, underscores our shared commitment to enhancing regional security and defense cooperation. It will facilitate greater interoperability and mutual support between the AFP and the JSDF, bolstering our collective capacity to respond to common challenges,” National Security Adviser (NSA) Eduardo Año said in a statement.

He added that the pact reaffirmed the Philippines’ commitment to upholding international law and promoting stability in the Asia-Pacific Region.

He added this agreement builds upon decades of collaboration and mutual respect, reflecting our shared values of democracy, rule of law, and respect for sovereignty.

Key partnership for peace

Senator Juan Miguel Zubiri lauded the timely signing of the RAA, which he said will boost defense interoperability.

“It was in 2022 when then-Ambassador to the Philippines Koshikawa Kazuhiko and I first discussed the possibility of pursuing a Reciprocal Access Agreement between our countries, and I brought this idea to President Marcos early into his administration,” Zubiri said in a news release.

“I am very hopeful that it will be a key partnership for achieving peace in the region,” he added.

Zubiri said Japan is an “invaluable ally” to the Philippines and its assistance has been vital to the modernization of Coast Guard and Navy.

“With this RAA, we can further strengthen our capacity-building through joint military exercises,” he said.

For his part, Senator Jinggoy Estrada said any strategic partnership that strengthens the country’s close security relationship with a regional partner “is an encouraging and welcome development.”

“Aside from joint military exercises, the RAA plays a crucial role in coordinating humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations, given the frequent occurrence of natural disasters in the region requiring rapid and coordinated response efforts,” Estrada said in a statement.

As chair of the Committee on National Defense and Security, Estrada said he will see to it that the ratification of the RAA will be among the priority agenda of the Senate when Congress opens the 3rd Regular Session on July 22. (PNA)