By Ivan Jules S. Capin

Despite the dark history shared between Japan and the Philippines, one might consider to temporarily set them aside. Japan has recently announced its willingness to provide military aid to the Philippines through an official agreement. This is in light of China’s intensified aggression in the West Philippine Sea on its deployment of surface-to-air missiles at Woody Island. The island has long been occupied by China since 1972 despite Taiwanese efforts to establish sovereignty.

However, this is not the first time Japan has expressed its willingness to arm Southeast Asia’s weakest armed forces. It has done so last year by signing an agreement with the Philippines by agreeing to fund ten 44 meter patrol ships for the Philippine Coast Guard. However, the difference between the agreements before and now is that it is more far reaching and more encompassing. It includes the transfer of military technology, the sale of more sophisticated military hardware, the donation of military equipment, and the conduct of joint exercises or trainings by both countries.

The transfer of military technology from Japan would allow the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) to improve the technical know-how of its personnel or even utilize it to create its own indigenous military technology. The sale of more sophisticated military hardware means that Japan’s massive military industry would surely beef up the assets of the AFP on both sea, air, and land.The donation of military equipment and the conduct of joint exercises cannot also be ignored as the former would mean that military equipment can be acquired at a lesser cost compared to their purchase and the latter would entail strengthening the interoperability and cooperation between both countries’ armed forces.

It also welcoming news for the AFP. A breath of fresher air it would seem aside from what it is breathing now. Although the release of an increased defense budget to quickly acquire more equipment such as aircraft, armored fighting vehicles, frigates, and weapon systems are all aimed to put the AFP back to its glory days, there is no point denying that this will consume time. Time in the sense that the more of it is wasted, the more China will effectively yet illegally assert itself in the West Philippine Sea by constructing more military infrastructures.

The time constraint can be addressed by this agreement signed between Japan and the Philippines. This will become a stop gap measure that will give the AFP more breathing space against China’s People’s Liberation Armed Forces (PLAF) until such time that it has achieve its goals of acquiring the needed equipment and training enough personnel to utilize them effectively and efficiently. Moreover, this is an opportunity for the Philippines to maximize it to its highest potential.

It cannot always depend on the United States for its needs on defense. It also has to consider its closer neighbors who have developed military industries such as South Korea and Singapore and other countries that have the capabilities to do so like Israel, Turkey, and Russia. Moreover, given that China will continue to assert its “sovereignty” over the West Philippine Sea, it is necessary that the Philippines must also be ready to assert its own.

This not a question of national pride, rather, it is a question of national security.

Allowing China to have a free hand over the islands in the West Philippine Sea is equal to having a neighbor fence your property, which you already know by virtue of your land title, is yours at the first place.