Philippine President Benigno Aquino (L) shakes hands with Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe during a signing ceremony at the Akasaka State Guesthouse in Tokyo on June 4, 2015. Photo by Reuters
TOKYO - The Philippines and Japan have agreed to start discussions on the transfer of defense equipment amid many challenges in the security environment in the region.
In their joint declaration, President Aquino and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe agreed to initiate "negotiations to conclude an agreement on the transfer of defense equipment and technology."
The agreement came amid China's reclamation activities in the South China Sea. Japan itself is also locked in a territorial dispute with China.
Speaking to reporters, Aquino said it is still premature to discuss which specific defense equipment would be transferred to the Philippines.
"The discussions are just starting on specifically which items, which equipment, and the Japanese are also re-examining the interpretation of the Constitution, which will or will not allow them to be able to transfer the same. So for us to say we have these as the 'wish list' is, I think, premature at this point in time," Aquino said.
"There is, of course, the assistance that they have rendered on our Coast Guard… and coastguard vessels are called 'white ships,' non-combatant, versus 'yung 'gray ships,' which will be combatant vessels. And, at this point in time, we are thankful that there is also already this help that increases the ability of our Coast Guard. There have been some interactions between the Japanese Self-Defense forces and our AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines). We have nine cadets undergoing training in their defense academy."
Japan also promised to support the capacity building of the Philippine Coast Guard.
A contract has been signed with the Japan Marine United Corporation for the Philippines to acquire patrol vessels from Japan through an official development assistance, which will be used for disaster response and border patrol.
"We need maritime domain awareness. We have a 36,000-kilometer coastline. We want to know what's happening in our waters. And I think it's premature for me to talk about possibilities at this point, you know. I'd rather talk about certainties, as in the case with the FA-50s and the other equipment that are already either with our AFP or on the way to our AFP."
Both leaders also agreed to expand "bilateral and multilateral trainings and exercises" as agreed in the Memorandum on Defense Cooperation and Exchanges between the Philippine and Japanese defense departments.
But the absence of a visiting forces agreement with Japan has to be addressed before training exercises could be held in the Philippines.
"We have a Visiting Forces Agreement with America and with Australia, but we don't have the same with Japan. That has, first, to be worked out before we can talk about training exercises in the Philippines, for instance, especially for self-defense forces," Aquino said.
Aquino justified the elevation of the relationship between the Philippines and Japan into a strategic one, saying that challenges have evolved.
"The challenges are evolving. The requirements are increasing, and perhaps there is a need to revisit the same to make it a better instrument, whereby both countries' interests are served for instance," he said.
"In 2011, the issue of pandemics was not as apparent as it is now. The idea of lone wolf terrorists was probably not as valid a concept in 2011 as it is now. Global climate change, especially the furiousness of all of these typhoons that are hitting not just us, but even other countries in the pacific and other countries beyond us, has also changed. So, so many challenges have evolved-or, in a sense, even different-that there has to be a re-examination of how exactly we can come to each other's assistance, so that we best serve all the interests of our respective peoples, and other countries that are close to us that we can also render assistance to."