Bosom buddies and BFFs

Significantly, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited the Philippines last week, right after the electoral sweep by his Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) of the upper house (House of Councillors) of the Japanese Parliament (National Diet) on July 24.

Dazzling grand slam. This win consolidated the LDP’s earlier landslide victory in the more powerful lower house (House of Representatives) last Dec. 16. Thereafter, on Dec. 26, Abe was overwhelmingly elected prime minister by 328 of the 480 members of the lower house. Thus, he arrived here with a solid mandate from his people.

Truly, this is a dazzling political grand slam by Abe, who six years ago embarrassingly resigned as prime minister after he lost the confidence of the then tumultuous Diet. He is only the second leader in Japan’s history to have come back successfully for a second term as chief executive. The first was Shigeru Yoshida in 1948.

In the past decade, Japan had revolving-door leadership changes, with the prime minister holding office for an average of one year only. In parliamentary democracies such as Japan, prime ministers stay only for as long as they retained Parliament’s confidence. Japanese politics had been quite erratic, aggravated by its lethargic economy. Two years ago, China overtook Japan as the world’s second largest economy.

For us Filipinos who elect our chief executives for a fixed term of six years, the revolving-door phenomenon could be catastrophic. However, like in many mature parliamentary democracies including Britain, Canada and Australia, Japan’s competent civil servants (who are not tarnished by partisan politics) kept the country going, despite the unstable political climate.

The disadvantage, however, is that while the civil servants (equivalent to our permanent civil service) kept the wheels of government rolling, they could not provide vision and direction. Only the elected leaders could supply them.

Solid partnership. The landslide victory of the LDP in both houses of Parliament gives Abe a stable term of office, thereby assuring the fulfillment of his vision and programs which include the revitalization of Japan’s economy, defense and international relations. Fortunately for him, Japanese politicians, unlike their Filipino counterparts, do not flip-flop and change political colors at their whim.

Abe’s visit just after his stunning political victory shows his keen interest in prioritizing and solidifying his country’s friendship and partnership with ours. Japan may yet be the Philippines’ best ally, rivaling our century-old close relations with the United States.

Note that prior to Abe’s visit, the Land of the Rising Sun—according to our hard-working ambassador to Japan Manuel M. Lopez—was already our top trading partner (reaching a two-way trade of $16.33 billion in 2012), top source of official development assistance, and one of our largest sources of foreign direct investments and foreign tourists (412,474 in 2012).

Japan has a low-profile representative in the foreign group (chaired by Malaysia) that is helping in framing the peace agreement between our government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. It also actively supports the Philippine stance to resolve peacefully the maritime dispute in the West Philippine Sea through international arbitration under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. I will discuss this arbitral proceeding in a future column.

Four initiatives. As a result of the visit, our two countries’ already strong “strategic partnership” was further boosted by the “Four Initiatives” announced by Abe. The first is “to foster together [a] vibrant economy.” Toward this goal, Japan will help in improving the “transportation and traffic infrastructure in Metro Manila.” It will provide 10 billion yen ($100 million) in new standby emergency credit “to assist in recovery from disaster.”

The second is “to promote cooperation in maritime affairs,” including the provision of 10 patrol vessels for the Philippine Coast Guard “through a yen loan.” The third is “to strengthen assistance to the Mindanao Peace Process.”

The fourth is “to strongly promote people-to-people exchange” by, among others, relaxing visa rules to Japan and increasing regular flights between the two countries. Philippine tourists to Japan will find an automatic 30-percent discount because of the depreciation of the yen to the dollar and the depreciation of the dollar to the peso.

Armed with an equally robust popular mandate, President Aquino met with the Japanese leader fresh from his Liberal Party’s victory in the May elections that assured him the full support of Congress, retaining not only Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. in the House of Representatives but also getting his close ally Franklin M. Drilon elected as Senate President.

This and his unprecedented performance ratings of 76 percent and 73 percent reported a few days ago by SWS and Pulse Asia, respectively, give P-Noy enormous political capital to respond firmly to Abe’s initiatives.

In Pampango, “abe” means close friend or bosom buddy. P-Noy hails from that part of Tarlac that imbibes and speaks the language. In choosing to hold their summit right after their grand political sweeps, P-Noy and Abe may yet turn out to be bosom buddies. Even better, the Philippines and Japan may yet become BFFs (the Filipino colloquial term for soul mates or, literally, “best friends forever”). All for the mutual benefit of both leaders and both nations.

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