(Photo from Malacañang Press Office)

Filipino troops are set to participate in joint combat training with Japanese forces following the signing of the Reciprocal Access Agreement (RAA) yesterday by Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro Jr. and Japanese Foreign Minister Kamikawa Yoko.

The signing of the pact is regarded as historic given Japan’s invasion of the Philippines during World War II. It marks an important turning point in the bilateral relationship, showcasing a deep transformation from a painful past to a future rooted in mutual trust, cooperation, and shared strategic interests.

The RAA not only symbolizes a commitment to overcoming historical grievances but also accentuates the evolving defense and diplomatic ties between the two nations, aiming to promote regional stability and collective security in the Indo-Pacific region.

The military training is specifically designed to further enhance the relationship between Japan and the Philippines by fostering closer defense cooperation, improving interoperability between their armed forces, and strengthening mutual trust and understanding amidst China’s aggression.

The RAA, which will enable Filipino forces to enter Japan for joint combat training upon ratification by both countries’ legislative bodies, marks Japan’s first such pact in Asia.

President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. emphasized the significance of the Philippines’ defense cooperation with Japan as he witnessed the signing of the landmark RAA on July 8 following Kamikawa’s courtesy call with Japanese Defense Minister Kihara Minoru.

“Your presence here increases our confidence and the importance that the Japanese government puts on these extremely important agreements that we have. And I’m very glad that we have come to this day,” Marcos told the Japanese officials.

“Once again, welcome to the Philippines. I’m happy that you were able to come and visit to witness or to be part of this very important event,” he added.

The Philippines and Japan initiated the RAA discussions during Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s visit to the Philippines in November of last year. Its establishment was first agreed upon during the inaugural Philippines-Japan Foreign and Defense Ministerial Meeting, also known as the 2+2, in April 2022, and reaffirmed during President Marcos’ official visit to Japan in February 2023.

The first formal negotiations on the RAA took place in Tokyo on November 29-30, 2023.

In April, President Marcos participated in a Trilateral Summit with U.S. President Joe Biden and Fumio, where they reaffirmed their dedication to fostering a peaceful, secure, and prosperous Indo-Pacific region.

The leaders stressed their commitment to the shared values of democracy, the rule of law, and human rights.

Kamikawa expressed gratitude to the President for underlining the important nature of the Japan-Philippines alliance. She stated that the two nations have made tangible progress in a diverse array of cooperation sectors.

“In particular, the fact that we are able to sign the RAA today is a great achievement following the leaders’ decision to launch negotiations at last November’s summit meeting,” Kamikawa stated.

“To maintain and strengthen the free and open international order based on the rule of law, we would like to strengthen our partnership under your excellency’s leadership,” she added.

Kihara also said that Marcos and Fumio’s exceptional leadership enabled the Philippines and Japan to make great strides in defense cooperation and exchanges.

“The signature of the reciprocal access agreement today represents the cooperative relationship that our two nations enjoy. And I welcome this new development, which reinforces the effectiveness of our defense cooperation,” Kihara said.

“I am committed to working with my good colleague Secretary Teodoro to further enhance our defense cooperation and exchanges in order to realize a free and open Indo-Pacific,” he added.