The Philippines said on Saturday it had rebuilt a “strong friendship” with former foe Japan, as its neighbors criticized Prime Minister Shinzo Abe for failing to properly apologize for Tokyo’s aggression during the second World War.
Since the war, Japan had “acted with compassion” which led to a relationship “characterized by trust and unfailing support in so many fields”, Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario said in a statement.
“This 70-year history demonstrates to the world that through their relentless efforts, peoples of two countries can attain a remarkable achievement in overcoming issues of the past and establishing strong friendship,” he said.
Japan is now the Philippines biggest source of development assistance and the two countries have also been strengthening defense cooperation in the face of separate territorial disputes with China.
According to the Japan International Cooperation Agency, the Philippines has been one of the largest recipients of Japanese official development assistance, or ODA.
Tokyo’s ODA to the Philippines, which Japan occupied from 1942 to 1945, reached $272 million in 2006. ODA in 2008 was at $302.54 million, making Japan the biggest source of development assistance to the Philippines that year.
Del Rosario’s comments were in stark contrast to reactions from China other Asian victims of Japan’s wartime aggression.
Beijing called Abe’s statement a non-apology while North Korea derided it as an “unpardonable mockery of the Korean people”.
South Korean President Park Geun-Hye said the speech “left much to be desired” and stressed the need for Japan to resolve the issue of Asian women forced to work in Japanese wartime brothels.
A Philippine group representing dozens of former sex slaves denounced Abe’s pronouncement that future Japanese generations should not be compelled to apologize for past aggression.
“He wants a gag of silence. That is unacceptable. You can’t commit a crime and set conditions… Our grandmothers didn’t set conditions when they were victimized,” said Rechilda Extremadura, executive director of Lila Pilipina.
Only 70 of the estimated 1,000 Filipina “comfort women” are still alive, many of them ill and in their twilight years, she said.
The women are demanding an “unequivocal apology”, an acknowledgement of the war brothels policy and compensation from the Japanese government, she said.
“I am very angry because Japan does not want to close this chapter. Will they wait for another 80 years? 100 years?” she said.
Japan marked the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II Saturday under criticism from China and South Korea which said Prime Minister Abe’s war anniversary speech failed to properly apologize for Tokyo’s past aggression.
In a move likely to further strain relations, a trio of cabinet ministers visited the controversial Yasukuni shrine, which neighboring countries see as a symbol of Tokyo’s militarist past.
Memorial services on the day Japan surrendered to the Allies in 1945 come after Abe on Friday delivered a closely watched speech that expressed regret but also said future generations need not apologize for Japan’s war record.
His remarks were welcomed by the US but blasted by China as a non-apology, while Pyongyang derided it as “an unpardonable mockery of the Korean people”.
South Korean President Park Geun-Hye said his speech “left much to be desired” and stressed the need for Japan to resolve the issue of Asian women forced to work as sex slaves in Japanese military brothels.
Australia’s Prime Minister Tony Abbott said Abe’s remarks “should make it easier for other countries to accept Japan’s commitment to a better future for all, and to strengthen their own friendships with Japan”.
In a speech for Saturday’s war commemorations, Emperor Akihito said he felt “profound remorse” over the conflict Tokyo fought in the name of his father Hirohito.
Some Japanese media said it was the first time the 81-year-old, a symbolic figurehead, had used those words at the annual memorial.
Earlier, Haruko Arimura, minister for women’s empowerment, entered the gates of Yasukuni, which is dedicated to millions of Japanese who died in conflicts — but also includes more than a dozen war criminals’ names on its honor list and a museum that paints Japan as a victim of US aggression.
It makes scant reference to the brutality of invading Imperial troops when they stormed through Asia — especially China and Korea — in the 20th century.