By Roy Mabasa
Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. on Thursday conveyed the government’s appreciation to Japan for its “generous and untiring support” for Mindanao, especially in the peace process and in the path to transition to the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region.
Locsin made this gesture at the joint press conference with visiting Japanese Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi.
This is Motegi’s first visit to the Philippines as a foreign minister since he assumed office in September last year.
“From the time of the peace talks to the present path we tread transitioning to the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region, Japan has been a constant, dependable partner. As the Mindanao narrative shifted from insurgency to peace and now development, Japan has similarly upped its backing,” Locsin said in his remarks shortly after his bilateral meeting with Motegi.
Locsin noted the numerous Japanese-supported road development, grassroots development assistance, technical-vocational education and social development projects that helped the Philippines “not only to reap the dividends of peace but also to re-invest these dividends for prosperity.”
During their bilateral meeting, the two officials engaged in “candid and productive” talks on issues and cooperation in the areas of defense and maritime security, Official Development Assistance (ODA), infrastructure and people-to-people exchanges.
After their meeting, the two top diplomats exchanged diplomatic notes on the Metro Manila Priority Bridges Seismic Improvement Project, a Japan-backed program that aims to reinforce bridges, bringing them to superior seismic design specifications and making them resilient to large-scale tremors.
“In like fashion, Minister Motegi’s visit and our very first bilateral meeting this morning further strengthens the bridges that span our broad, dynamic and robust partnership,” Locsin said.
Locsin said they “reviewed and charted” the direction of the Philippines-Japan defense and security engagement even as he thanked Tokyo for supporting the Philippine acquisition of new air and maritime assets and equipment to enhance its maritime domain awareness and capability, as well as its law enforcement and humanitarian responses.
Both sides likewise expressed their commitment to continue their cooperation, “bilaterally and in all possible forums”, to maintain peace and security, stability and the rule of law in the region, in an apparent reference to the South and the East China Sea disputes.
“This is the first of our many meetings which I look forward to having with Minister Motegi. The Philippines-Japan Strategic Partnership has been a positive force, not just for Philippine development and security, but in the best interest of our larger region. I very much look forward to our future encounters and interaction to build up, even more, our relationship, personal and official, and further cement our two countries friendship and unity of purpose,” the DFA chief said.
While in Manila for the two-day official visit, Motegi also paid a courtesy call on President Duterte in Malacanang.