February 13, 2023
MANILA — The Philippines could get into a Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with Japan, as it has with the United States, if it would not increase the tensions already gripping the West Philippine Sea.
That was the answer of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. when asked about the issue on Sunday in an interview with reporters during his flight back from Japan to Manila after his five-day official visit.
Having studied the issue, he said a VFA with Japan might help the Philippines protect its maritime territory, including fisherfolk using the area.
“If it would really help, I don’t see why we should not adopt it,” Marcos said in a mix of Filipino and English.
“We have to be careful also because we do not want to appear provocative. So that instead of keeping the situation calm in the South China Sea we might get it more heated. That’s not what we want,” he added.
Marcos said his main concern was the safety of Filipino fishermen.
“What I’m thinking is that our fishermen have to be protected. We have to make it clear that we in the Philippines are patrolling our waters and making sure that it is well-recognized that it’s really the maritime territory of the Philippines,” he said.
“That’s the intent. As long as we – if we can achieve that, if it is appropriate, if it does not constitute the danger of increasing tensions, then it might be useful for the Philippines,” he added.
Review of tripartite agreement
Marcos said another topic he discussed with Japan Prime Minister Kishida Fumio is the review of the US-Japan-Philippines tripartite agreement.
In an interview with a local news station here on Sunday, he said his administration would study this issue.
During a briefing after their meeting last Thursday, Kishida said that they would look into ways to strengthen cooperation between the three countries.
“So that we really have to discuss… what exactly does that entail? And of course, we have to talk to the Americans also to see what roles are really going to be played should there be a tripartite agreement. So the proposal is in concept at this stage, only in principle… We don’t really have details yet,” Marcos said.
“So maybe sometime down the road, we will sit down with our Japanese counterparts and American counterparts and we’ll see what is it really that they want. We don’t as I said – it’s only been proposed in principle and that’s as far as it goes so far,” he added.
During the same briefing held by Marcos and Kishida last Thursday, there was no mention of the VFA despite a strong push from lawmakers.
Having a VFA with Japan is an old proposal, dating back to before the term of Marcos’ predecessor, then-President Rodrigo Duterte. Talks bogged down, however, as both countries focused on the COVID-19 pandemic that struck the world in 2020.
Last November, several senators, led by Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri, said that a VFA would be beneficial to the Philippines since Japan is also a close ally of the US.
Under the Mutual Defense Treaty, the US is expected to aid the Philippines in case of an unprovoked attack.