Metro Manila, Philippines — The Senate on Monday said it hopes to approve the proposed Reciprocal Access Agreement (RAA) between the Philippines and Japan next year.

“We are looking at a timeline of a year, less than a year siguro (maybe). Maybe by the first half of next year they can take this to the Senate and we can already ratify,” Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri told CNN Philippines’ The Source

During Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s visit to the Philippines last week, he and President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. disclosed that Manila and Tokyo have started negotiating for the establishment of an RAA. This will be similar to the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) that will allow troops of one country to freely visit another temporarily.

Some groups have protested against the RAA, saying this will “degrade” the Philippines’ sovereignty and further escalate tensions in the region.

Zubiri emphasized the purpose of the agreement is the interoperability and cross training between the two nations’ troops. No sites similar to those for Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement will be established, he said.

The RAA will serve as a framework to ensure the military from both countries follow each other’s laws, he said.

“I think one of the most disciplined armies in the world is the self-defense forces of Japan,” he added. “I don’t think we will have a problem with them when it comes to violations of our law.”

In a statement, Gabriela Secretary-General Clarice Palce slammed Zubiri, saying that he should not ignore the fact that there were women abused under the VFA with the US, what more now with the RAA.

“We remind Senate President Zubiri that the Japanese army that they are welcoming is the same Japanese army that built a comfort station and raped thousands of women during World War II here in the Philippines and other countries they conquered. Neither ever acknowledged and apologized for the murders, mass rapes, and other atrocities against Filipino women, Yan ba ang disiplinado? (Is that what you call disciplined?” she asked.

The senator said the crafting of the deal will be easier since the Philippines will just use the RAA of Japan with the United Kingdom and Australia as a template.

Zubiri said he needs 16 senators to vote in favor of the RAA and he believes he has more than that.