DAVAO CITY — Japan, the Philippines’ biggest official development assistance (ODA) source, has committed a fresh $202-million fund for a road network project in conflict-affected areas in Mindanao as the two countries’ foreign ministers met on Sunday to discuss expanded bilateral tries.
“We reaffirmed the strength of our strategic partnership… From there we proceeded to examine our cooperation in defense, maritime security, infrastructure development, human resource development, health, disaster risk reduction and management, and people-to-people exchanges — in each case reaching understandings and making commitments to specific undertakings,” Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro L. Locsin, Jr. said in a joint press conference at the Marco Polo Hotel here.
Mr. Locsin said special focus was given to Mindanao, where a new Bangsamoro region — covering the poorest and most restive areas in the southern islands — is set to be formed with the recent ratification of the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL).
“Japan welcomes the ratification of the Bangsamoro Organic Law… Japan has been a consistent support of the Mindanao peace process for more than 10 years,” said Japanese Minister of Foreign Affairs Taro Kono, who also met Saturday with President Rodrigo R. Duterte here and was to inaugurate the upgraded Japanese Consulate General in Davao City Sunday evening as part of his three-day official visit.
Last week, ceremonial groundbreaking was held in war-torn Marawi City for the P970-million road rehabilitation projects under a Japanese government grant and a shelter and livelihood project supported by the Japanese government and the United Nations Human Settlements Programme.
“On a broader level, we agreed to sustain and further strengthen economic cooperation… Japan is the number one source of ODA, she is our largest investor, our second-biggest trading partner, and our fourth-largest tourism market,” Mr. Locsin noted.
“Our economic cooperation is mutual; we recognized the space that exists for the Philippines to contribute to Japan’s own ongoing economic revitalization. In this world of interconnected economies, Japanese participation in Philippine progress helps drive Japan’s growth.”
As of end-September 2018, loans and grants from the Japanese government reached $5.977 billion, accounting for 41.2% of the Philippines’ official ODA, according to the National Economic and Development Authority.
In terms of trade, Japan was third after the United States and Hong Kong in terms of export value at $8,789 billion, accounting for 14% of total foreign sales of Philippine goods in the 11 months to November.
Finance Secretary Carlos G. Dominguez III, meanwhile, announced that the 7th Philippine-Japan high-level meeting will be convened in Osaka “later this month.”
He noted that with the “‘Fast and Sure’ approach that this administration has adopted together with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s administration, we have processed loan approvals for majority of the infrastructure projects we are undertaking with Japan in just an average of three to four months.”
“This demonstrates our shared commitment to work closely to ensure that the Filipino people get to benefit from these projects at reasonable costs and at the soonest possible time,” Mr. Dominguez said before a separate bilateral meeting with Mr. Kono Saturday afternoon.
Meanwhile, the two foreign ministers also stressed the renewed commitment to maritime security in the region.
“Our bilateral security cooperation is advancing well, including the transfer of defense equipment and the conducting of joint exercise. Today, we share the view that we resume Japan-Philippine political-military dialogue and the maritime dialogue,” Mr. Kono said.
“Japan will stay our steady partner in strengthening our defense capabilities as we modernize our armed forces and bolster maritime security in the region,” Mr. Locsin said.
“This particular area of cooperation does not exist in a vacuum; it takes place in the context, and under the intense pressures of the larger regional security situation.”