MANILA - A Filipino history professor believes that although an apology for the war crimes committed by the Japanese during the Second World War is unlikely to be given soon, Japanese Emperor Akihito's visit to the Philippines still plays a significant role in the relationship between the two countries.

In an interview with ANC, Professor Ricardo Jose of the UP Department of History said that the emperor's visit to the country is very significant, since it is the first time in history that a reigning emperor visited the country.

"I think the visit of the emperor is very significant because this is the first time he is coming as emperor of Japan. The first time he came here, he was still crown prince, that was in 1962. So this is the first time, not only for Emperor Akihito to visit as emperor, it's the first time ever that a Japanese emperor is visiting our country," he said.

He added that although Emperor Akihito does not have any executive power in Japan, his visit carries more weight than a visit of a Japanese prime minister.

"So, in terms of diplomatic relations, this is very important because while the prime minister has come here several times, many prime ministers have come. The prime minister is the head of state, in the executive sense. The emperor is the titular head, the symbolic head of state. He, like the King of England, like the Queen of England, does not have real executive powers but he commands the respect of his people, he commands the loyalty of his people, so because of that, he does carry more weight. The symbol of Japan, coming here, he does not really equate to the president of the Philippines. There is no equivalent [of the emperor] in the Philippines," Jose said.

"It's the spirit, the soul of Japan coming here so that's a diplomatic coup, because he has not really visited other countries in Southeast Asia in the same level," he added.

Japanese Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko pay respects at the Cemetery of Heroes in Taguig City, Wednesday. The Japanese emperor and empress are in the country for a five-day visit with activities that coincide with the 60th anniversary of Japan's diplomatic relations with the Philippines. George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News

For Jose, the emperor's visit can be seen at different levels.

One, as a commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the resumption of Philippine-Japanese relations, and second, as a commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the end of the Second World War.

"So, 60 years on, how has that relationship developed? In 1956, Japan was still struggling from the war, they were still rising from the ashes. We had already risen from the ashes and we had become a power in Southeast Asia at that particular point. Now, 60 years later, what has happened? Japan is a major economy in East Asia, in the whole of Asia. We are still developing, in a sense. So, it is interesting to look at what happened to the two countries, and we have 60 years of relationship to look at," he explained.

He added that the emperor considers the Philippines as an important part of Japanese history since a lot of Japanese citizens died in the country during the war.

"Last year was the 70th anniversary of the end of World War 2, and that was also very significant. These anniversaries almost coincide with the emperor coming here. On one level, [it is] to reflect on the war. He has been going around the other battle fields, in Palau, Okinawa, Iwo Jima. He's gone there and he is now coming here because this is a very important place for the Japanese. The most number of Japanese died here--outside of mainland Asia, so this is very significant for them," Jose said.

It is also possible that Emperor Akihito wanted the "wounds of the war to be healed," which is why he visited the Philippines when he still can.

"He has that initiative to decide on his own. He was invited last year by President Aquino to come to the Philippines, he took that invitation seriously. And again, since this was the place where the largest number of Japanese died overseas in Southeast Asia, I think he took it upon himself to go here, pay his respects, and also at the same time, work on Philippine-Japan relations so that the wounds of the war will be healed," Jose said.

"One thing about the emperor's visit is that he is bringing back some of these memories, he himself realizes that what happened here was very serious," he added.

APOLOGY, RECOGNITION, COMPENSATION

Several groups of war victims, particularly the so-called "comfort women," showed up and voiced out their demands during Emperor Akihito's state visit to the Philippines, hoping the emperor will grant their demands for an official apology and compensation.

Unfortunately, according to Jose, the emperor's lack of executive power means that he also does not have the power to decide on these demands.

"Firstly, the emperor, again, does not have any executive power, so he cannot decide on compensation. He cannot deliver a public apology on behalf of the Japanese administration at this particular point," he said.

The emperor, however, can start by recognizing these war crimes, in order to encourage Japanese society to do the same.

"He can perhaps recognize what happened, or take steps to recognize what happened, and that is a beginning, because some elements of Japanese society don't want to recognize it," Jose explained.

"But if he take steps, and he has already taken steps to recognize civilian victims of the war, that would be a landmark thing because the emperor is the symbolic head of state, what he says, the people, more or less, have to follow," he added.

'SELECTIVE HISTORY' IN JAPANESE TEXTBOOKS

Meanwhile, Jose also explained why the Japanese did not mention the war crimes in their history textbooks.

"Many of these people would have died. Some of those who would have committed atrocities would have died in combat, or in jungle, of starvation, and the families who are left behind, the bereaved families, they'll not know what their fathers, or brothers, or uncles did. And, you know, they have a reputation to keep, and if they found out that my father killed people in Fort Santiago, tortured people, it's not a nice story to tell," Jose said.

He added that most Japanese would rather paint a positive picture for Japanese children to help build national character.

"In fact, one of the reasons why the Japanese hesitate to put stories of the comfort women, the torture in Fort Santiago in their textbooks is because they say, 'Do we want our children to always realize we were cruel abroad? How do you build national character on that level?' So the conservatives say, we have to build a positive identity, and how can we reconcile that? We were torturers, the Kempeitai were torturers, and they did this all throughout Southeast Asia. It's something that is difficult to reconcile, especially when you consider that most of them [who served during the war] are dead now," Jose also said.

For Jose, instead of hating each other for failing to apologize and recognize what has been done during the war, it is better for both Filipinos and Japanese to recognize what happened, and to learn from past experiences.

"There are similarities in what happened, but people don't seem to learn. So, I think the emperor is interesting because he realizes [that] we shouldn't forget this, and I think, in our case, many of the survivors of the war also say we can forgive, but we should not forget. We build up on that, we understand each other, not hate each other, not be angry at each other, realize that part of time has passed, but we can build up on that to build a stronger relationship," he said.

Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko, who first visited the Philippines in 1962, is currently on a 5-day state visit in the country.