Filipinos who were born or who grew up in the years before the Japanese invasion of the Philippines in 1941 and occupation until 1945 would no doubt be filled with dread today if they saw Japanese ‘Zero’ fighter planes above our skies, rekindling fears of impending death and destruction in their midst.
But these days, if there are still ‘Zero’ planes still intact, these would no doubt only be in war museums in Japan, as mementoes of that country’s plan to establish what they called the ‘Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere,’ a thinly veiled scheme to impose their will on this side of the Pacific through the use of naked force.
But that’s probably neither here nor there at present, when the balance of forces in the world has dramatically shifted from the Cold War between the US and USSR in the aftermath of the Second World War to a struggle between the US and China for economic and military dominance.
What must have sent shivers of apprehension down the spines of Filipino old-timers would be the recent sight of two Japanese jet fighters on our airspace presumably emblazoned with the Japanese flag with the red sun on a white background.
But the imagined fear is unjustified as the presence of two Japanese fighter planes in Philippine skies for the first time since World War II is nothing but a part of a friendly bilateral air force exchange program, as the two US allies seek to reinforce military alliances amid regional tensions.
The two F-15Js of the Japan Air Self-Defense Force (JASDF) landed at Clark Air Base in Pampanga. The Philippines is the third country to which Japan has sent its fighter jets, after the US and Australia.
The Japanese fighter jets, which arrived at the tail end of the exchange, did not take part in kinetic exercises or a flight demonstration.
They only held a “goodwill flight” with the Philippine Air Force’s FA-50 light fighters when they were escorted upon their arrival.
“The fighters’ goodwill visit will serve as an avenue to leverage bilateral cooperation with JASDF to increase mutually beneficial activities and develop PAF’s defense capabilities given the current security challenges in the region,” the PAF said.
A total of 60 Japan air force personnel and 91 from the PAF took part in the exchange, held from Nov. 27 to Dec. 7.
The final day of the program covered a briefing by JASDF on actions against violation of territorial airspace, and joint exercise activities with fighters.
The two air forces exchanged best practices in the fields of communication and electronics, civil engineering, aircraft maintenance, medical affairs, base defense security, meteorology, air traffic control, welfare facilities and battle management.
Previous exercises between JASDF and the PAF in the last two years had focused on humanitarian assistance and disaster response.
The militaries of both countries have been stepping up bilateral engagements in recent months after their foreign and defense ministers met in Tokyo in April to expand defense cooperation amid concerns over the situations in the East and South China Seas and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
It was the first “2+2” meeting between the two US allies.
The two countries are currently in talks for a visiting forces agreement which will make it easier for Japanese forces and their military equipment to operate in the country, including conducting joint exercises.
The Philippines keeps a similar pact with the United States and Australia.
In 2013, Japan donated 10 ships valued at US$11 million to our Coast Guard. Japan and the Philippines share a “mutual concern” over China’s increasing assertiveness in its territorial claims.
In May 2016, the two sides even discussed the possibility of signing a Philippines-Japan Mutual Defense Treaty, but this has since been scuttled with the Duterte administration’s pivot to China.
On February 29, 2016, Japan signed a pact to supply defense equipment to the Philippines. The agreement provides a framework for the supply of defense equipment and technology and will allow the two countries to carry out joint research and development projects.
Increased defense cooperation between the Philippines and Japan comes on the heels of closer economic cooperation between them.
The strategic partnership between the two countries has gained pace in recent years.
In November 2015, the Philippine government and the Japan International Cooperation Agency signed a $2-billion loan agreement for the JICA to fund part of the construction of a railway system between the Tutuban railway station in Manila to Malolos, Bulacan, which is part of the plan to expand the country’s railway system.
The agreement is said to be JICA’s largest assistance ever extended to any country for a single project.
Japan has become the biggest donor of Official Development Assistance to the Philippines since 2001, with its ODA loans to the Philippines accounting for 72 percent of the country’s total bilateral loan portfolio as of 2021.
The loans for various infrastructure projects, such as roads and bridges, carry concessional interest rates and long grace periods.
Japan disburses ODA to the Philippines through the Japan International Cooperation Agency when the ODA is in the form of projects, and directly through the Embassy of Japan to the Philippines in the case of non-project grants.