Bridges: How would you describe the current Japan – Philippines partnership?
Bolivar: Ties between the Philippines and Japan have gone from strength to strength since we normalized diplomatic relations in 1956. Within the last ten years alone, our countries have built a strengthened strategic partnership that is aptly described as “a friend closer than a brother”.
Sixty-six years on, Japan remains one of our country’s most important bilateral partners. Japan is the Philippines’ second largest source of investments, its second biggest trading partner and its top source of development assistance. Japan has been a reliable partner of the Philippines in its development agenda, capacity-building initiatives, and COVID-19 recovery efforts.
Our bilateral and regional work continues in various sectors such as infrastructure development, trade and investment, defense, security and maritime cooperation, science and technology cooperation, human resource development and assistance for Mindanao, to name a few.
The convening of the inaugural Philippines-Japan Foreign and Defense Ministers Meeting in May 2022 powered our momentum to forge a stronger partnership that will be more responsive to both traditional and emerging challenges.
From enhancing capabilities for maritime domain awareness and maritime law enforcement, addressing common environmental challenges, improving climate adaptation and mitigation, enabling disaster risk reduction, and maximizing opportunities in outer space and cyber space, the Philippines and Japan are continuously scaling up our cooperative endeavors in various fields. All of these are a testament to the friendship that our countries share, a bond that continues to deepen over time.
What is the Embassy doing to strengthen ties between the two countries?
The Embassy has had to adopt innovative means to promote the Philippines in Japan during the COVID-19 pandemic. We continued to conduct various activities such as virtual economic briefings, digital and social media campaign, and culinary tourism activities. We worked to maintain the country’s visibility in the Japanese market and continued to make the case that the Philippines is a viable destination for Japanese investments. The virtual economic briefings conducted by the Philippine Government’s economic managers enabled Japanese companies to fully appreciate our country’s long-term positive economic outlook.
We continue to pursue science diplomacy through its engagements with various stakeholders, including in new and emerging fields such as space and cyber technology. We participate actively in trade and tourism fairs in Japan, and host virtual and in-person events at the Embassy. Most recently, we have been actively introducing Philippine barako coffee and snack products into the Japanese market. We have also facilitated partnerships between the major players in the Philippine and Japanese animation and gaming industries.
We have a considerable online presence through our website and social media accounts. Our Facebook page has more than 65,000 followers and our posts on Embassy activities on political, economic, cultural and consular matters garner thousands of engagements. The Embassy also continues to actively engage Prefectural Governments, as well as Japan-based think tanks and media outlets to promote mutual understanding between the Philippines and Japan.
In our effort to increase the Japanese public’s awareness and appreciation of the Philippines, we have been actively promoting Philippine culture and the arts in Japan. The Embassy has delivered lectures and presentations, and donated several books on Philippine culture, arts, and history to various schools and libraries in Japan, including Meikai University, Kudan Secondary School, the Tokyo University of Foreign Studies, Kyoto University’s Center for Southeast Asian Studies, and the ASEAN-Japan Center in Tokyo.
We have recently partnered with local media, in particular the Japan Foundation’s CROSSCUT ASIA Online Film Festival, the BS NTV Cooking Program “Amazing Embassy Cooking”, and Fuji TV’s World Buzz Cooking to highlight the amazing and diverse cuisine of the Philippines. In cooperation with our fellow ASEAN and Asian Embassies, we produced and aired on social media videos introducing our country to the young people of Japan.
Over the last few years, we have also championed Filipino artistic talent through Embassy’s various online and in-person programs. We facilitated the participation by Filipino students to international competitions in Japan, such as the annual International High School for the Arts Festival, where, each year, at least one young Filipino artist takes home a top prize. During the height of the pandemic-induced restrictions, we produced online productions featuring award-winning choral groups, such as the Young Voices of the Philippines, the Koristas, and the University of the Philippines Manila Chorale to promote Original Pilipino Music.
Perhaps the highlight of our cultural promotion program is our long-time partnership with the Tokyo University of Foreign Studies Dance Troupe, composed of Japanese college students who study and perform traditional Filipino dances. We have featured the Troupe in several events we have hosted, and they have represented the Philippines in the Tokyo Metropolitan Government’s Stage Event for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games.
What opportunities do you see to bring Japan and the Philippines closer together in terms of cultural and business ties?
Our very active people-to-people exchanges are key to strengthening our bilateral cultural and business ties. There are almost 300,000 Filipinos living and working in Japan, and in pre-pandemic times, almost half a million Filipino tourists visited Japan. On the other hand, Japan is the fourth largest source of inbound tourism for the Philippines. With pandemic-related travel restrictions easing, we expect that our tourism numbers will steadily increase and eventually return to, and even exceed, pre-pandemic levels. We have worked hard during the pandemic to keep the Philippines at the top of the Japanese public’s mind when they think of places to visit after the pandemic passes.
President Ferdinand Marcos, Jr., himself said, Filipinos overseas are our country’s “special envoys” to their adoptive countries. As such, the Embassy intends to further strengthen our existing cooperation with our Filipino community in Japan to promote Philippine culture, arts, and tourism through both in-person and online activities.
We firmly believe that the youth are the hope of our nation, and it is education that will help them realize their true potential. As such, we will identify and pursue scholarship opportunities for Filipinos to pursue graduate studies in Japan, especially in the cutting-edge fields of science and technology for which Japan is acknowledged as a world leader.
We will maximize every opportunity to create bridges of understanding between Filipinos and Japanese through such innovative programs as the Japan-East Asia Network of Exchange for Students and Youths (JENESYS), the Japan Foundation Asia Center’s Asian Cultural Exchange Program, and the Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Programme. We will continue to promote Philippine culture by participating in various events, including the International Cultural Exhibition, the Asia-Pacific Ladies Friendship Society (ALFS) Bazaar, the Ikebana International Fair, and the activities of the ASEAN-Japan Centre.
Early this year, we organized the month-long Philippines Fair at The Imperial Hotel Tokyo, where Philippine dishes were available at the Parkside Diner of the hotel. For two years in a row, Philippine cuisine highlighted the menu at Hard Rock Café and Tony Roma’s restaurants in the Roppongi district of Tokyo. We intend to continue our excellent partnership with hotels and restaurants to enable the Japanese public to sample and enjoy our country’s diverse and flavorful offerings.
As one of our top sources of trade and investments, Japanese and Philippine business sectors have a long tradition of profitable cooperation. We want to continue assuring Japanese companies that our country remains strongly committed to improve its business climate and make it easier to do business in the Philippines.
The Philippines has a large domestic market and preferential access to major global markets. We offer highly competitive incentives to enterprises in preferred economic sectors. The recent enactment of the amendatory bill to the Retail Trade Liberalization Act (RTLA) and amendments to the Public Service Act (PSA) and the Foreign Investments Act (FIA) complete the set of economic reform initiatives that make the Philippines a premier investment destination in the region. These reforms will create numerous opportunities between Japanese and Filipino companies, especially those at the cutting edge of information technologies.
In addition, the Japan-based Rating and Investment Information Incorporated recently maintained the Philippines’ credit rating at BBB plus with a stable outlook, citing the PH economy’s solid growth recovery. This signals to the Japanese investors that the Philippines, given its strong macroeconomic fundamentals, is investment-worthy.
Our country is among those vulnerable to climate change and natural disasters. We recognize the need for sustainable means of meeting the present and future economic needs of our people. We look forward to partnering with Japan to promote economic growth, hand-in-hand with carbon neutrality and strengthening disaster resilience.