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Duterte skips Japan trip

Malacañang said yesterday that President Duterte would not go to Tokyo, Japan next week to focus on the armed conflict in Marawi City, Lanao del Sur.

Presidential spokesperson Ernesto Abella, in a statement, thanked the Japanese government for understanding the situation. “We thank the Japanese government and organizers for their consideration, and both sides mutually agreed that a visit to Japan could be rescheduled in the future,” Abella said.

According to the Palace official, the lines of communication between the Department of Foreign Affairs and its Japanese counterpart remain open and active in this regard.

He also said that Duterte still hopes to meet Prime Minister Shinzo Abe whom the President has always admired and respected. “The Philippines highly values its close friendship and deep bilateral relations with Japan. President Duterte hopes to meet Prime Minister Shinzo Abe whom he has fond admiration and respect especially when the Japanese leader visited him in his hometown in Davao,” he said.

Abe visited Duterte in his house in Davao City last January in a rare diplomatic gesture aimed at strengthening relations between their two nations.

Reports of Duterte’s trip cancellation first surfaced Sunday. Duterte was set to give a speech at the 23rd Nikkei International Conference on the Future of Asia in Tokyo on June 5 and 6.

On Tuesday, Nikkei Inc. reported that Duterte cancelled his appearance at the conference it is hosting. Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter S. Cayetano later that day announced that Duterte will not proceed with his scheduled visit to Japan and that both governments mutually agreed that there will be a better time for the two leaders to meet.

Cayetano thanked the Japanese government and the conference organizers for their understanding but apologized because of unavoidable circumstances that require the President’s undivided attention. “We are optimistic that once the security issues in Min-danao will have been settled, and the local rebellion in Mindanao fully addressed, the visit of President Duterte can be rescheduled,” Cayetano noted.

The DFA chief added that this was not an easy decision for the President due to the close friendship and deep relations between the Philippines and Japan. (Argyll Cyrus B. Geducos)