PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte said Thursday he is open to having joint exercises with Japan, after he announced the end of military exercises with the United States.
“Joint exercises? Yes, of course... In general terms, yes, no problem,” Duterte said during an interview with reporters after he visited the Japanese Coast Guard on Thursday afternoon.
Duterte said patrol vessels from Japan would be used within the country’s territorial waters, including the West Philippine Sea.
In July, the Coast Guards of both countries conducted their sixth Joint Maritime Law Enforcement Exercise.
In Japan, Duterte said he saw no issue with China if the Philippines used patrol vessels acquired from Japan to patrol the West Philippine Sea.
“I do not think they would stop us,” he said, referring to the Chinese.
During his three-day official visit to Japan, Duterte and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe reaffirmed their countries’ maritime cooperation.
Their joint statement said that Japan would provide patrol vessels and other equipment for the Philippine Coast Guard.
Duterte and Abe also witnessed the signing of the Exchange of Notes on Japanese Official Development Assistance (ODA) Loan for the two large-scale patrol vessels to the Philippines.
Duterte lauded Japan’s intention to provide high-speed boats to the Philippines.
“Japan is the number one donor in terms of assistance and help including some of the vessels that have been shown here, especially the light ones, the rubber boats. It is for mobility. That’s what we need, not an aircraft carrier. You know, the Philippines is a group of... 7,048 islands all in all. We need the rubber boats to make patrols inland, including rivers,” Duterte said.
He also said he would like two frigates similar to those being used by the Coast Guard for use by the Bureau of Customs.
In September, Duterte announced that he would end joint military exercises with the United States.
In October, he expressed openness to holding war games with China and Russia.
While in Japan, however, Duterte was quick to explain that no military alliance with China was formed during his recently concluded four-day state visit there.
Also on Thursday, Defense Undersecretary for Finance Raymundo Elefante said the five TC-90 surveillance aircraft that the Defense Department will lease from the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Forces will be stripped of their surveillance equipment before they are turned over to the Philippines.
“Those things that you mentioned will be removed by them because it’s theirs. But we will be equipping the aircraft with our own surveillance equipment,” Elefante said.
The light long-range patrol planes that would be leased for $7,000 each year will be used by the Philippine Navy to patrol the country’s maritime domain, especially in the disputed West Philippine Sea where China has been occupying areas within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone.
The aircraft are part of the JMSDF stock of older patrol planes.
Elefante said the first delivery of two planes will be in March or April next year and the rest within the second quarter.
He said a couple of Navy pilots will have to train first in Japan.
The base of the aircraft would be at Sangley Point in Cavite, the home port of the Philippine Fleet.
On Wednesday, Duterte and Abe signed agreements for the Philippines to acquire vessels and training aircraft from Japan.
The vessels and patrol aircraft are expected to enhance the country’s security.
The TC-90s will also likely be used for humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.
Before issuing their joint statements, the two leaders witnessed the signing of the Exchange of Notes on Japanese Official Development Assistance (ODA) Loan for the two large-scale patrol vessels for the Philippines.
Duterte said he expected Japan to continue playing an important role in maritime security in the region, including the South China Sea, where Manila has territorial disputes with Beijing. Japan also intend to provide the Philippines with high-speed boats and other equipment as part of counter-terrorism measures. Japan also agreed to support infrastructure and agricultural promotion projects in the Philippines to help economic development.
On Wednesday, Duterte underscored that stronger ties with Japan would continue to be a priority for the Philippines.
“We look to Japan as a steady fulcrum in our regional engagement as the Philippines’ first and only bilateral free trade partner to date,” Duterte said.
Duterte told an economic forum in Tokyo that his government was boosting investments in infrastructure and rural development as he urged Japanese businessmen to invest in the Philippines. At the Philippine Economic Forum organized by the Japan External Trade Organization and other groups, Trade and Industry Secretary Ramon Lopez also invited Japanese investment in information technology and business process outsourcing.
Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez told the same forum that the government was working to ease limits to foreign ownership of Philippine businesses. He said the economy could sustain economic growth of 7 percent or higher.
“This is a fine time for looking at the Philippine economy as an investment destination. The bilateral relations between Japan and the Philippines has deepened, and we look forward to more intensive cooperation,” Dominguez said.
“We look forward to investment inflows from Japan, especially those that will support strategic investments in the infrastructure and industry,” Dominguez added.
Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol invited Japanese investors to the consider investing in rubber, fish and marine products, coconuts, and forest products such as wood and fiber.
Charito Plaza, director general of the Philippine Economic Zone Authority, said Manila will explore new types of economic zones including a dedicated defense industrial zone. She said this could help the Philippines modernize its armed forces, improve its defense capability, and provide employment.
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