A Tale of Two Presidents: Normalization of relations with Japan

MANILA The governments of the Philippines and Japan officially signed the Memorandum of Cooperation for the Recovery and Repatriation of the Remains of Japanese Soldiers last 8 May 2018.

The concluded agreement is a cooperation in the humanitarian repatriation of the remains of World War II Japanese soldiers in the Philippines. It is meant to facilitate the proper collection, handling, storage and shipment of Japanese remains.

Sixty years ago, in 1958, Japan was allowed to undertake recovery missions in the country for humanitarian reasons under the administration of President Carlos P. Garcia (1957-1961). Roughly 100,000 soldiers have been returned to Japan since then. According to the Department of Foreign Affairs, it is estimated that 518,000 Japanese soldiers perished in the Philippines during World War II.

Seven years earlier, in 1951, it took another Philippine president to end the war with Japan and extend a hand of forgiveness to Japanese prisoners of war in 1953. President Elpidio Quirino (1948-1953) took the task of building Philippines-Japan relations during his term.

Immediately after the war, there was no formal relations between the two countries. The Philippines and Japan remained under a state of war until 23 July 1951 when the San Francisco Treaty was signed. The Treaty signing, however, did not immediately establish diplomatic relations. (The Philippine Embassy in Tokyo opened in 23 July 1956, while the Consulate in Kobe opened 28 August 1956 when Garcia was Vice President and Secretary of Foreign Affairs under Magsaysay Presidency).

In Raisa Espinosa-Robles' To Fight Without End: The Story of a Misunderstood President, the Americans painted Quirino as someone out to extract "his pound of flesh" from Japan with his refusal to sign the Japanese Peace Treaty. The Quirino clan lost 18 of its members to Japanese gunfire during the Battle of Manila in February 1945, including his wife and three children.

When the US State Department demanded that Philippines drop $8 billion war reparations claim, Quirino stubbornly refused. Quirino believed that Japan, eventually, will rise a power again, and as long as it is a power, it must be reckoned within the affairs of Asia. Although President Quirino later backed down, the Philippines still pursued its claims independently after the Peace Treaty was signed on 8 September 1951. (The Reparations Agreement was eventually signed on 9 May 1956).

On 4 July 1953, some eight years after the war, 105 Japanese prisoners of war were pardoned by President Elpidio Quirino. Of these, 52 convicted war criminals had their death sentences commuted to life imprisonment under certain conditions. All were released and repatriated on 15 July 1953.

Before the pardon, 17 Japanese prisoners were already executed and some 50 await execution. However, as early as February 1953, according to Augusta de Viana in his paper Ending Hatred and the Start of Healing: President Elpidio Quirino's Pardon of Japanese War Prisoners in July 1953 and its Effects, Quirino was of a view of a need for a Pacific Union with Japan, a thought that eventually guided him to this enduring act of humanity.

On 18 June 2016, in commemoration of the 60th year of normalization of Philippines-Japan diplomatic relations, a memorial to Quirino the first in Japan in honor of a former Philippine Head of State was unveiled in Tokyo's Hibiya Park (Jose Rizal has a bust also in Hibiya Park, Artemio Ricarte has a memorial in Yamashita Park, Yokohama and San Lorenzo Ruiz has statues in Nagasaki).

The memorial pays homage to President Quirino's role in paving the way for the normalization of post-war Philippine-Japan relations, in particular his momentous decision in 1953.

Another memorial marker for President Quirino was unveiled in Yasugi City, Shimane Prefecture on 23 October 2016 at the Kano Museum of Art. The building of the memorial marker was initiated and funded by the heirs of Kano Kanrai as a symbol of peace and in memory of friendship between the two men.

Tatsuo Kano (Kanrai), a Japanese painter, began sending letters to President Quirino when a friend of his faced the death penalty at a military tribunal in the Philippines. As early as 1949, Kano began appealing for amnesty for the Japanese war criminals and devoted himself to this campaign. A total of 43 letters of petition was received from Kano by President Quirino.

On June 8, 1955, two years after the clemency was given, Kano met President Quirino at Tokyo's Imperial Hotel. The photograph of their meeting is now etched on the memorial along with an epitaph containing President Quirino's message when he extended the executive clemency.

"I should be the last one to pardon them as the Japanese killed my wife and three children and five other members of the family. I am doing this because I do not want my children and my people to inherit from me hate for people who might yet be our friends for the permanent interest of the country. After all, destiny has made us neighbors."

At present, the two nations' relations had matured immensely with Japan now being the Philippines' top source of official development assistance. In 2016, Japan's ODA to the Philippines reached USD5.62 billion. As of October 2017, it stands USD4.92 billion.

What the recently signed agreement reminds us is the timelessness of the actions of Presidents Quirino and Garcia. Both are exemplars of our humanity and defined what it is to be Filipino even to those who were once our gravest enemy. Their actions paved the way for a post-war relations with Japan, actions, which, until now, ring true and remembered fondly. These actions will continue to play a part as we move our bilateral relations with Japan forward. (By Geronimo Suliguin)

(About the author: Geronimo Suliguin, a Filipino diplomat, is the director of the Department of Foreign Affairs-Office of Public Diplomacy. Suliguin went to the University of the Philippines for his bachelor's and master's degree in History. He is currently taking his Postgraduate education in Historical Studies at Oxford University.)

Source: Philippine News Agency

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