MANILA - President Rodrigo Duterte on Saturday paid tribute to outgoing Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and prayed for the latter's speedy recovery.
In a statement, Duterte hailed Abe, Japan's longest serving premier, as "a leader with a bold vision and firm determination."
"The bilateral relations between the Philippines and Japan, now a strategic partnership, greatly flourished during his tenure," Duterte said, as both countries have one of the closest partnerships in Asia.
"What we have worked for and achieved together lays the foundation for an even closer friendship and cooperation between our countries in the future."
Abe, 65, announced his resignation on Friday due to a worsening illness, which is ulcerative colitis.
For Duterte, Abe, the first foreign leader to visit him when he took office in 2016, is a "true friend closer than a brother."
"He is - to me and the Filipino people - a true friend closer than a brother," he said.
"To Prime Minister Abe, I pray for your speedy and full recovery!"
Duterte also recalled that Abe was "gracious" in accepting his invitation when the Japanese leader visited his house in Davao City in 2017.
"I will not forget Prime Minister Abe's kindness and strength of character," he said.
Abe has visited the Philippines 4 times - first in 2013, followed by the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit in 2015, his 2-day official visit in January 2017 and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Leaders' Summit in November 2017.