Aquino meets Filipino community in Japan
TOKYO—President Aquino on Thursday began his official business here with a meeting with the Filipino community in Japan at the National Olympics Memorial Youth Center in Shibuya-ku.
Addressing the Filipino expatriates in Tokyo, Aquino said he knew that many of them had relatives who were affected by Yolanda (international name: “Haiyan”) or by earlier calamities.
“We come here also to assuage your fears. While you, as my Bosses, are working overseas, your government is working hard, too, to serve our Bosses in the Philippines,” he said.
“I’m happy to inform you that affected communities in the Visayas have started to recover [from the devastation] in the aftermath of Typhoon Yolanda,” he said.
Aquino reported on the government’s relief efforts, including spending about P1 billion for supplies to help the typhoon survivors.
The President is in Japan for the 40th Asean-Japan Commemorative Summit, a regional gathering that will allow heads of state and governments in Southeast Asia to discuss with Japan simmering tensions over their separate territorial disputes with China in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea), East Sea and East China Sea.
The summit is a culminating event in a full year of activities commemorating 40 years of Asean-Japan relations.
Cost of rebuilding
The President said the rebuilding of towns destroyed by Yolanda would cost “between P120 billion [and] P130 billion.”
He cited the extent of the damage in the energy industry in the Visayas, where the typhoon toppled 250 transmission towers.
To make communities that are prone to disasters climate resilient, he said, the government will pursue the concept of “build back better” in the rebuilding effort.
The concept involves relocating families from danger zones or rebuilding houses with stronger and more durable materials.
Aquino took a swipe at his critics who, he said, had made a cottage industry out of belittling his administration.
Without mentioning names, the President cited two newspapers that had been publishing “sensational reports” and “false stories” that tended to aggravate people’s fears.
“The Lord will deal with you,” the President said, referring to his critics.
As President, he said he could not just quit because the people expected him to lead, particularly during times of difficulty.
“Those who asked me, ‘How are you?’ I say, ‘I like my job.’ It’s an honor to lead a nation that is confronted by various trials, stumbles yet gets up again and again,” Aquino said.
This year has been a challenging one for his administration, Aquino said, citing the Moro National Liberation Front attack on Zamboanga City in September; Typhoon “Santi,” which devastated Central Luzon on Oct. 12; the 7.2-magnitude earthquake that hit Central Visayas on Oct. 15; and Yolanda, which wrought death and destruction across central Philippines on Nov. 8.
The Filipinos in Japan had been raising funds to help the survivors of Yolanda. During the meeting, Aquino received from them a symbolic check for 1 million yen (about P500,000) through Jenavila Shigemizu, chair of the Philippine Barrio Fiesta executive committee, and Olive Akasu.
Earlier, Aquino said it was his “duty” to attend regional summits.
Here, he said he would have a chance to personally thank Japan for its help in relief and recovery efforts after Yolanda and other disasters that struck other parts of the Philippines this year.
Japan was one of the most generous countries that extended aid to the survivors of Yolanda.
In addition to millions of dollars in aid for typhoon victims, Japan also sent aircraft, ships, medical teams and members of its Self-Defense Forces “to hasten the delivery of relief goods to the typhoon survivors,” the President said.
Series of meetings
President Aquino will have a series of meetings with Japanese political and business leaders to fortify the Philippines’ defense and trade cooperation with Japan.
Accompanying the President are Secretaries Albert del Rosario (foreign affairs), Cesar Purisima (finance), Gregory Domingo (trade), Joseph Emilio Abaya (transportation), Herminio Coloma (presidential communications) and Julia Abad (Presidential Management Staff).
Malacañang is spending P15 million for Aquino’s bilateral meetings and participation in the summit, Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr. said in Manila.
The expenses cover transportation, accommodation, food and equipment, among other requirements, of the President and his 57-member official delegation, Ochoa said.
“The participation of President Aquino in the Asean-Japan Commemorative Summit will further strengthen our relationship with Japan, a longtime ally and strategic partner in trade, tourism and labor,” Ochoa added.
Philippine Ambassador to Japan Manuel Lopez said Aquino’s visit to Japan would be an opportunity for him to thank the Japanese people and its government for the help they extended to Filipinos affected by recent calamities.
The President will have the chance to thank Japanese Emperor Akihito and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe when he meets with them on Friday.
Lopez said Japan remained committed to helping the survivors in the rebuilding stage.
“Japan has helped us so much, it is only fitting the President comes here to say ‘Thank you’ to Japan. There is nothing wrong with the President coming here. I think it’s very important he shows the country’s appreciation. Remember, Japan is going to stay much longer than most other donor countries,” he said.
Lopez said Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida had told him to just let Japan know if the Philippines needed anything in calamity assistance.
Good relations dividend
Aquino said he would thank Japan and other Asean members that extended assistance to survivors of Yolanda.
“Truly, during a difficult time, they made us feel that we were not alone. This is the dividend of our honorable and robust dealings and relations with our allies and friends,” Aquino said.
He recalled that before Yolanda struck, personnel of the Asean Coordinating Center for Humanitarian Assistance had been deployed to the country to rescue and care for typhoon victims.
Business, political agenda
During his three-day visit, the President will also engage in political, defense and business talks with Japanese leaders led by Abe.
The President will witness the signing of three exchanges of notes on a post-disaster standby loan worth 10 billion yen ($100 million), loan for multirole response vessels for the Philippine Coast Guard worth 18.732 billion yen ($187 million) and a revised route schedule for the Philippines-Japan Air Services Agreement to increase air traffic between the two countries.
“Besides its generosity in times of calamities, Japan has been a strong partner in improving our economy and the laying out of opportunities for all Filipinos,” he said.
Japan is the Philippines’ leading trade partner aside from being the source of the biggest Official Development Assistance, he said.
“So we would take advantage of this opportunity to talk with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe so that we can thank his countrymen,” he said.
The President disclosed that the bilateral meeting would also touch on strengthening relations for lasting peace and order, and prosperity for the region.
“In our discussions with Japanese businessmen, we will proudly lay out before them many opportunities for business expansion in our country,” he said.
The President was to have a private dinner on Thursday with the influential Ishihara family led by former Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara and current Member of Parliament Hirotaka Ishihara, who is also vice minister for foreign affairs.
Abe will play host at a “working lunch” with Aquino on Friday.
“The President and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will meet to discuss, among other [things], the recovery and reconstruction program of the government [after] Typhoon Yolanda, maritime cooperation, the Mindanao peace process and people-to-people exchanges,” Coloma said in an earlier interview.
The President will also meet with officials of Nippon Keidanren, Nidec Sankyo, Sumitomo Metal Mining Co., Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corp., Bank of Japan and the Japanese Chamber of Commerce.
On Friday, Aquino will meet with the chancellor and president of Sophia University, which will confer on him an honorary doctorate in law, and members of the Japan Philippines Parliamentarians’ Friendship League.
The sessions of the summit will not begin until Saturday.