SUBIC BAY FREEPORT: The Japanese commander of a destroyer group that docked here on Sunday for a four-day goodwill visit described the Philippines as “a very important ally.”
Captain Hiroaki Yoshino, chief of the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force’s (JMSDF) Submarine Training Division 1, made the statement during a news briefing at the Alava Pier in the Subic Bay Freeport after arrival ceremonies for the Japanese submarine JDS Oyashio (SS-511) together with destroyers JDS Ariake (DD-109) and JDS Setogiri (DD-156) of the Destroyer Escort Division 15.
Yoshino admitted that talks are ongoing between Japanese and Filipino officials for the crafting of an agreement covering the visits of JMSDF to the country but declined to comment further.
“What I can tell you is that Japan considers the Philippines a very important ally,” he said.
Discussions by both countries regarding a visiting forces’ pact similar to that signed by the Philippines and the United States in April last year aim to advance mutual defense amid increasing threats in the Asia-Pacific region.
Yoshino said the visit of the two destroyers headed by Capt. Haruhiko Morisita and the submarine’s Subic port call were aimed at starting a series of confidence-building activities with their counterparts from the Philippine Navy from San Antonio, Zambales-based Naval Education and Training Command (NETC).
They also sought to enjoy Philippine culture, he added.
Morisita, on the other hand, said he and the rest of the officers and men of the visiting Japanese Navy will be in Subic for a short stay and are looking forward to having a great time.
Yoshino denied that the visit intends to send a signal to China, which has been increasing its military activities in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) and in East China Sea where both countries lay claim to a number of islets administered by Japan.
He pointed out that the port call is a goodwill visit and for training purposes only.
Japan last month announced reinterpretation of its post-World War II Constitution, which now allows its military to help defend its allies, like the United States and the Philippines.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said the Cabinet decision to adjust the interpretation that formerly limits its armed forces to defending Japan was necessary because of regional changes.
Flag-Officer-in Command Capt. Samuel Felix headed officers and men of the Philippine Navy who welcomed the arrival of the Japanese ships.
In a statement, the Philippine Navy said the visit is expected to enhance the already strong relationship between the two allies.
“It is a demonstration of fostering commitment to the cooperation between the two nations, which benefits regional peace and stability,” it added.
The Japanese servicemen will be allowed shore leave but will be limited to the confines of the Subic Bay Freeport.
Oyashio is manned by 70 officers and crew while Ariake and Setogiri have 211 and 150 officers and men, respectively.
The Japanese warships will leave Subic on April 6.
They are docked in the sprawling former US naval base just 200 kilometers (125 miles) from a Chinese-held shoal.