MANILA — President Rodrigo Duterte and Prime Minister Suga Yoshihide this week discussed various issues including the South China Sea, diplomatic aid, and the COVID-19 in a telephone conversation, the Filipino leader's office said on Tuesday.
In a 25-minute phone call, Duterte "noted the growing maritime security and defense cooperation between the Philippines and Japan, as he exchanged views with Prime Minister Suga on regional issues, including the South China Sea and the situation in the Korean Peninsula," said the Office of the President.
Manila and Beijing are locked in a territorial dispute in the South China Sea, while Japan and China have a dispute in the East China Sea.
"Suga conveyed Japan’s interest to work closely with the Philippines to promote a 'Free and Open Indo-Pacific,'" Duterte's office said in a statement.
The Philippines and Japan next year will mark 65 years of diplomatic ties.
"Japan is a valued partner of the Philippines. As a friend closer than a brother, ours is an exemplary partnership that has withstood the test of time," Duterte told Suga, as quoted by the Office of the President.
The President thanked Japan for its consistent support for the peace and development agenda in Mindanao and the administration’s infrastructure program, including the 36-kilometer Metro Manila Subway that will start partial operations in 2022, said Duterte's office.
"The first of its kind in the Philippines, it will be an important crowning achievement of our cooperation during my term," Duterte said.
Duterte also thanked Japan for its $3.16 million (around P151 million) emergency assistance, 2 substantial loans for the Philippines’ pandemic recovery efforts, and for facilitating the repatriation of 3,852 Filipinos from Japan during the pandemic.
"Until COVID-19, the Philippines was consistently among the fastest-growing economies in the region. Our fundamentals remain robust. The support of Japan raises our optimism and confidence in containing the pandemic and steering our economy back onto its growth trajectory," the President said.
Suga hopes that the establishment of the ConsulateGeneral of Japan in Cebu on January 2021 will further strengthen Philippines-Japan bilateral relations, said Duterte's office.