December 19, 2023
MANILA – President Ferdinand Marcos said he and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida are aiming to finalize the Reciprocal Access Agreement (RAA) between their countries “as soon as possible.”
“I think both the prime minister and I agree, ASAP (as soon as possible). Lahat ito (All of this), as soon as possible — yesterday, if not, sooner,” the president said in a media briefing before flying back home on Monday night.
He was referring to a visiting forces deal being negotiated since last month that would provide the legal basis for the armed forces of Manila and Tokyo to enter each other’s territory.
Asked if China’s aggressive actions in the West Philippine Sea have prompted Japan and the Philippines to enter into an RAA, Marcos said: “It’s been in the works way before that. Of course… the incidents in the past few couple of months [have] certainly sharpened our focus when it comes to that. But again, that’s one of the things that I’m looking forward to that will have… a very big multiplier effect to our capabilities.”
Early this month, Philippine defense officials held talks with their counterparts in Japan on finalizing the RAA, after Marcos and Kishida gave the go-ahead in November to start the negotiations.
The Japanese leader, who was on a working visit in Manila during that time, said in a joint statement with Marcos that they recognized “the benefits of having this arrangement both to our defense and military personnel and to maintaining peace and security in our region.”
After the completion of a draft of the RAA, this will be sent to the Philippine Senate and Japan’s legislature for ratification.
The RAA, which is envisioned to be similar to the Visiting Forces Agreement between Manila and Washington, will make the Philippines the first such host of Japan among the member countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean).
Japan has a similar agreement with the United Kingdom and Australia.
Situation at Ayungin
When asked about Chinese vessels recently swarming Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal in the West Philippine Sea, Mr. Marcos said, “We are exerting all efforts but this is, we have to be very careful that we do not overreact, that we do not make mistakes that might be misinterpreted by anyone.”
He added that “if we heightened the tensions [there], it won’t lead us to a good result. We are being very circumspect in the actions that we will take.”
Meanwhile, National Security Council Assistant Director General Jonathan Malaya belied the view that Chinese vessels at Ayungin Shoal were already in an “invasion” mode.
“They already left as of yesterday’s report and we confirmed it also this morning. All of them have left and the only one remaining per our latest monitoring is one [China] Coast Guard vessel [with identification mark] CCG 5204,” he said at the Bagong Pilipinas Ngayon news briefing on Monday.
“We would like to dispel this report. And maybe what we can say is that what Ray Powell said is more of a hyperbole or an exaggeration of what is happening [there],” added Malaya, in reference to a recent analysis by Powell, project director of Stanford University’s Gordian Knot Center, that Chinese vessels at Ayungin constituted a “highly unusual invasion” and “calculated show of force by Beijing.”