MANILA (AFP) - The Philippines said on Saturday that it had rebuilt a "strong friendship" with former foe Japan, as its neighbours criticised Prime Minister Shinzo Abe for failing to properly apologise for Tokyo's aggression during World War II.
Since the war, Japan had "acted with compassion" which led to a relationship "characterised by trust and unfailing support in so many fields", Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario said in a statement.
"This 70-year history demonstrates to the world that through their relentless efforts, peoples of two countries can attain a remarkable achievement in overcoming issues of the past and establishing strong friendship," he said.
Japan is now the Philippines biggest source of development assistance and the two countries have also been strengthening defence cooperation in the face of separate territorial disputes with China.
Del Rosario's comments were in stark contrast to reactions from China other Asian victims of Japan's wartime aggression.
Beijing called Abe's statement a non-apology while North Korea derided it as an "unpardonable mockery of the Korean people".
South Korean President Park Geun Hye said the speech "left much to be desired" and stressed the need for Japan to resolve the issue of Asian women forced to work in Japanese wartime brothels.
A Philippine group representing dozens of former sex slaves denounced Abe's pronouncement that future Japanese generations should not be compelled to apologise for past aggression.
"He wants a gag of silence. That is unacceptable. You can't commit a crime and set conditions... Our grandmothers didn't set conditions when they were victimised," Rechilda Extremadura, executive director of Lila Pilipina, told AFP.
Only 70 of the estimated 1,000 Filipina "comfort women" are still alive, many of them ill and in their twilight years, she said.
The women are demanding an "unequivocal apology", an acknowledgement of the war brothels policy and compensation from the Japanese government, she said.
"I am very angry because Japan does not want to close this chapter. Will they wait for another 80 years? 100 years?" she said.