Philippine President Benigno Aquino said Tuesday he is backing the Abe administration’s reinterpretation of the Constitution to be able to exercise the right to collective self-defense because of the situation Filipino peacekeepers in the Golan Heights have encountered since last year.
Speaking before delegates from the Japan National Press Club at the presidential palace in Manila, Aquino said the Philippines welcomes the move of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Cabinet as it sees Japan, which it regards as its closest ally after the United States, as capable of extending help to Filipino troops in distress in conflict areas being monitored by the United Nations.
“We do not view with any concern this reinterpretation of the Constitution,” Aquino said.
“You would want to be assured that your partners in this disengagement observation force would be able to assist you if you came to a predicament. So, that’s when we started thinking about it, that it’s more of that actual need rather than issues in the South China Sea, which might become a need somewhere down the line,” he added, referring to the sea where the Philippines, China and some other Southeast Asian countries have territorial disputes.
In late August, 75 Filipino peacekeepers in the U.N. Disengagement Observer Force in the Golan Heights were harassed by suspected Syrian rebels.
More than half the Filipinos were restricted for a few days to their position and the incident prompted the Philippines not to send a replacement contingent when their peacekeeping term ended in October.
In March last year, 21 Filipino peacekeepers were abducted by Syrian rebels, followed by four more two months later. All were eventually released.
Aquino noted Japan pulled its contingent out of the Golan Heights much earlier than did the Philippines.
“The restrictions imposed on Japan would be, if we were attacked, we couldn’t count on them to help us . . . given the needs, you would really want to have very good cooperation with every other partner country,” Aquino said.
He said the revised defense policy is an opportunity for the Philippines to enhance its defense ties with Japan.
“I assume, somewhere down the line, we will have exercises with Japan . . . the only two strategic partners that the Philippines have are America and Japan. And we would really want to enhance our partnership with Japan to be able to ensure there is that effective interoperability, if and when, and hopefully, it will never come to that, even in terms of humanitarian assistance,” Aquino said. “There is really a need to be able to work with each other.”
The Abe Cabinet has ruled that the Self-Defense Forces could participate in collective security actions if three conditions set for the exercise of the right to collective self-defense are met.
A history professor at the University of the Philippines who specializes on Philippine-Japan relations said that should Japan amend its Constitution to accommodate the new defense policy, it is effectively losing its “high moral position” in the world through its renouncement of war as an instrument of national policy.
“Japan was in a very high moral position to be able to tell the world, ‘Look, we learned from the war, and we are setting a moral situation here where we don’t want war.’ To remove that and make Japan normal will remove that uniqueness,” said Ricardo Jose, also director of the university’s Third World Studies Center.
With the conservative leadership in Japan and many of them visiting Yasukuni Shrine, Jose said an amendment of the Constitution’s Article 9 “will remove the checks.”
“I think it’s going to cause more problems that it will solve,” he added.