MANILA - Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will travel to Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte's hometown of Davao when he visits the country next month, making it a "very significant and unique" trip, Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay said Thursday.
In an interview with Kyodo News, Yasay said Abe's planned three-day visit, which reciprocates one made by Duterte to Japan in October, is tentatively set for the second week of January.
"The trip will be very significant...and unique because not only will Prime Minister Abe be visiting Manila and will have an activity in Malacanang, but more importantly, he will also be proceeding to Davao," Yasay said.
Malacanang Palace in Manila is the official residence and principal workplace of the president, while Davao, located on the southern island of Mindanao, is where Duterte served as mayor for more than 20 years
Yasay said a number of activities, including visits to an international university being put up by Japan in Davao and to historical sites and markers, are being prepared for the first ever visit by a foreign head of state to the city of over 1.6 million people, the country's third most populous.
Davao was home to many Japanese migrants in the early part of the 20th century, most of whom were engaged in farming abaca, or Manila hemp, a type of fiber.
Decades after the end of World War II, Davao became the beneficiary of many Japanese-funded projects, many of them aimed at alleviating poverty and consolidating peace in Mindanao which has long been plagued by a Muslim insurgency.
"For President Duterte, Davao is a very significant place for him because this is (where) he really saw how the Japanese had expressed their true friendship with the Philippines," Yasay said.
"He is personally happy with it because it is the kind of friendship that he expects from other nations where, if we have problems, we address it privately. We do not try to publicly discredit or name or shame any particular (country), for instance, the Philippines, and then, we proclaim at the same time that we are friends."
Duterte has lambasted the Philippines' long-standing and only treaty ally, the United States, for criticizing him over his bloody anti-drugs campaign, which has allegedly violated the human rights of suspects and resulted in many extrajudicial killings.
After vowing to pursue an "independent foreign policy" and reduce dependence on the United States, Duterte has been fostering closer relations with such countries as China and Russia.
"We are very happy with the attitude of Japan in treating us with respect and as a sovereign equal," Yasay said, while also praising Japan for not imposing undesirable conditions on its assistance to the Philippines.
Bilateral relations, he said, are becoming "much stronger and more mutually beneficial" in recent years.
Abe last visited the Philippines in November 2015 for an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit, prior to which he paid an official visit here in July 2013 to discuss ways of strengthening the two countries' "strategic partnership."