President Rodrigo Roa Duterte and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe pose for posterity prior to the summit meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office in Tokyo, Japan on May 31, 2019. RICHARD MADELO/PRESIDENTIAL PHOTO

President Rodrigo Duterte on Saturday expressed regret over Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s resignation, calling him a “true friend, closer than a brother.”

Abe, Japan’s longest-serving prime minister, resigned on Aug. 28 over poor health.

“I cannot be prime minister if I cannot make the best decisions for the people. I have decided to step down from my post,” Abe said in a press conference.

Duterte expressed gratitude for Abe’s efforts to strengthen Japan’s relations with the Philippines.

“The bilateral relations between the Philippines and Japan, now a Strategic Partnership, greatly flourished during his tenure,” Duterte said.

“What we have worked for and achieved together lays the foundation for an even closer friendship and cooperation between our countries in the future,” he added.

Duterte also recalled Abe’s visit to his Davao home in 2017.

“Prime Minister Abe was also gracious, accepting my invitation to visit Davao City where I and Honeylet welcomed him and Madame Akie warmly to my humble home,” he said.

Duterte said he would pray for Abe’s “speedy and full” recovery. 

Abe’s term ends officially next year. 

Liberal Democratic Party lawmakers are expected to vote for a new prime minister next month John Ezekiel J. Hirro