What the Davao-Japan connection means



John Tria John Tria

The visit of Japanese foreign Minister Taro Kono to Davao City last Sunday highlights the long historical connection between Davao and Mindanao, and points to a strong future putting the southern Philippine island at the apex of new cooperation.

Highlights of the visit included one-to-one meetings with Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. and Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez apart from other meetings with cabinet members such as Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana.

These discussions are punctuated by the 202 million dollars for Mindanao road rehabilitation, apart from other “Build, Build, Build” projects it has committed to fund.

This road network in particular will help support the rehabilitation of Marawi and provide stronger links between farms and markets to help unlock the promise of many areas, particularly in the Bangsamoro.

It can be recalled that Japan has consistently supported the peace process in Mindanao, what with its hosting of talks between the MILFs Murad and then President Aquino.

A notable contribution is the Mindanao container terminal at the Phividec industrial area near Cagayan de Oro, which has boosted its attractiveness as an investment destination. Of late several large industrial companies will begin constructing facilities there.

Recently, the 5.6 billion contributed by Japan from January to Sept 2018 accounts for 41.2% of total Overseas Development Assistance (ODA).

This makes it the biggest ODA contributor, consistently putting Japan as our biggest ODA partner over the last 20 years.

Japan has also become our largest export partner overtaking the US in 2010.  Our average exports are at about 12 billion dollars and rising. Between it and China we have the bulk of our external trade.

The industrial area near Cagayan de Oro has boosted its attractiveness as an investment destination. Several large industrial companies will soon begin constructing facilities there.

At present Japanese fruit companies export bananas to Japan and elsewhere, and future ventures point to the possibility of larger industrial investments.

Apart from the large industrial  investments recorded by agencies such as the PEZA and BOI is a large number of small and medium-scale investments coming in the form of ramen restaurants and clothing retailers.

Japan's role as a partner focused on infrastructure positions it as an enabler of trade and economic activity vital to sustaining peace. Undeniably, the infrastructure it has funded since the 1990s is part of the Philippine growth story.

Japan in Mindanao history

Japans involvement in Mindanao dates back to the early 1900s when Japanese worked the abaca fields in Davao. By the 1920s their population breached 20,000 in a city that barely had a hundred thousand residents.

This has created a local Japanese heritage with descendants and relatives settling even after World War 2.

Today, the Japanese school and college Nikkei Jin Kai hosts hundreds of them with exchange programs enabling them to partner with Japanese colleges.

A Little Tokyo has been established in Mintal in Davao to serve as a memorial for the once thriving Japanese settlement there.

A Japanese consular office, operating since the 1920s, is now a consulate general offering full consular services to the rising number of Japanese residents and visitors from Mindanao.

These Japanese ties to Mindanao show a unique shared history that ought to overshadow any experience in war.

The Japanese were and are known to be industrious neighbors and able to eke out a successful living from the land. They partook of Mindanao’s promise at the same time other settlers came.

In the near future, direct Japan-to-Mindanao flights are expected, what with a high number of residents taking vacations in and fostering trade with Japan.

Japanese anime and movies are a growing part of  the youtube and netflix generation. These elements put Japanese brands and culture to compete with Western influences, and contribute to a further "Asianization" of Asians.

Thus, this visit means so much to push trade and cultural relations with Japan and the rest of Asia.

It underscores these ties and cements a centuries old relationship rooted in culture and ethnicity, to help navigate the stirred waters of todays geopolitical complexities and demographic shifts to make for a dynamic region.

Having let go of our colonial past with the West, asian countries have deepened their ties with each other Asia is the the future, and all relations in this dynamic part of the world will be premised on mutual benefit and shared values.

With a strong, successful past and present, partnerships are as fruitful and point to a fruitful future.

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