Japanese military personnel will be able to conduct exercises in the Philippines if a Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) being pushed in the Senate materializes.
Department of National Defense (DND) Officer in Charge (OIC) Jose Faustino Jr. bared this Monday, Nov. 14, as he gave his two cents on the endorsement of the Senate to establish VFA between Manila and Tokyo.
“The Philippines would like to have a VFA in order for the Japanese troops to conduct exercises in the Philippines,” Faustino said during the culmination of the 83rd founding anniversary of the DND in Camp Aguinaldo, Quezon City.
Right now, the Philippines has two active VFAs with its allied countries: first with the United States which was ratified in 1999, and second with Australia which was signed in 2007. The VFA governs the conduct of foreign soldiers in the Philippine soil while they undergo joint military trainings with Filipino troops.
However, Philippines has an active defense cooperation with Japan which allows for their troops to participate in the military exercises of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) – such as the Balikatan and Kamandag with the United States – but only as observers. This means that they get to participate only in humanitarian assistance and disaster response (HADR) drills.
The defense cooperation also enables training exchanges where Filipino military students are sent to Japan to further their studies.
“That is what’s allowed without the VFA,” Faustino said.
Aside from training, Faustino emphasized that having a VFA with Japan will also help both countries to protect their interests in the West Philippine Sea (WPS) and in the borders that they share.
“So our goal really is to strengthen this cooperation,” he added.
Nonetheless, the Defense OIC clarified that the VFA, should it push through, will not be directed towards a particular country, alluding to China. Like the Philippines, Japan also has a territorial row with China over the contested Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea.
“The agreements that we conduct with other countries, with Japan, South Korea, Australia, the United States... this is not directed towards another country. It’s multilateral, bilateral or minilateral relationship. These are like-minded countries and we’d like to maintain that,” Faustino said.
According to reports, Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri said last Thursday that the Upper Chamber will support the establishment of a VFA with Japan, describing the neighboring country as a "good partner."