President Rodrigo Duterte on Tuesday, May 28, flew out to Tokyo for a visit aimed at deepening the Philippines’ political and economic ties with Japan — one of the country’s regional allies that the president had described as “closer than a brother.”
For Duterte’s third visit to the Land of the Rising Sun, he is scheduled to attend Nikkei’s International Conference on the Future of Asia from Thursday to Friday (May 30-31), and his seventh bilateral meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Friday, May 31.
The meeting will likely be a discussion about defense and security, economic cooperation, infrastructure development, and Japanese assistance for the development of the new Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, according to Foreign Assistant Secretary Meynardo Montealegre during a Palace news briefing on May 24.
Duterte, whose plane touched down in Tokyo at 9:52 p.m. on Tuesday, May 28 (Japan time), will be accompanied by about 200 people, including Cabinet members, local officials and their staff throughout the entire visit.
The Cabinet members traveling with the president include Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr., Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III, Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol, Public Works Secretary Mark Villar, Secretary to the Cabinet Karlo Nograles, Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat, Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade, Science Secretary Fortunato dela Peña, Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi, Information and Communications Technology Secretary Eliseo Rio Jr., Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Ernesto Pernia, Presidential Communications Secretary Martin Andanar, National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon, Jr., presidential spokesman and chief presidential legal counsel Salvador Panelo and presidential peace adviser Carlito Galvez Jr.
Philippine Ambassador to Japan Jose Laurel V noted that Duterte seems to be rewarding his Cabinet with a trip to the Japanese capital due to the success of his candidates in the midterm elections.
“This is a reward for the past elections. Why do you bring 20 Cabinet members here, even local government? For land reform? There’s no land reform here, they’re done with that,” he said.
“But I think the president is so elated with the results of the midterm elections that this is an affirmation of what his administration has done in the last three years. It’s like a reward,” he added.
Doing their job
Malacañang, for its part, was quick to deny Laurel’s statement, with Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea saying none of the Cabinet members were on the campaign trail.
“Each Cabinet member who joined the trip has trade missions. They are not decorations in the summit,” Medialdea said.
“They are just doing their job,” he added.
Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez also said the trip was not a reward.
“I don’t know about that. But every time we travel with the President, we maximize his presence and have him speak to several investment [forums], and we conduct deal-signing, business matching and networking, roundtable meetings with President Duterte and investors and secretaries do join as an opportunity to dialogue with the foreign business community,” Lopez said.
“We have never seen this as a reward. [We have been] working day and night to prepare for all these activities,” he said.
On Wednesday, May 29, Duterte met with Filipino and Japanese executives in Tokyo. In his speech, he vowed a corrupt-free and competitive business environment in the Philippines.
“I will give you at any hour of the day or night you can contact any of the cabinet members or your Filipino lawyers or Filipino workers, and you can ask (for) an audience with me in 24 hours and I will talk to you and just let me know what your problem is and we will kill that problem,” the Philippine leader said.
He also urged Japanese investors to take part in Build, Build, Build;” the government’s ambitious P 8.1 trillion infrastructure program.
“We invite Japanese participation in our game-changing ‘Build-Build-Build’ infrastructure program which we aim to build inclusive and innovative industries and transform our economic archipelago into one of an integrated economic space,” the president said.
“More than Build-Build-Build, let us work together to Grow-Grow-Grow our economies,” he added.
A total of 26 deals — worth P288.8 billion — were signed by Philippine and Japanese companies, which are expected to generate 82,737 jobs. The deals include cooperation in trade between the countries, Memorandum of Understandings (MOUs), joint ventures, franchise agreements and letters of intent. (With reports from Philstar.com)