More US troops coming, but no bases, says defense chief
MANILA, Philippines—Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin on Thursday described plans to hold more joint military training exercises with the United States as an “expanded VFA [Visiting Forces of Agreement], but definitely with no bases” involved.
He said the “high value” and “high impact” exercises would benefit the armed forces of both the Philippines and the United States–which would be sending over more troops–although he could not say how many servicemen would be participating on both sides.
“I cannot be definite on the number but definitely there will be more participation of forces from both the US and the Philippines,” Gazmin told reporters at Fort Bonifacio during the 115th anniversary celebration of the Philippine Army.
He said the exercises would be different from those conducted in Mindanao, which American forces traditionally visit as part of the annual “Balikatan” joint exercises.
“We are looking at exercises that will be of value to both countries, those high-impact exercises that can help us in a lot of areas,” Gazmin said.
He cited exercises at sea to help the Philippine Navy improve its emergency and disaster response skills.
Gazmin stressed that the establishment of permanent bases in the country by the United States was not part of the equation, and that the exercises would be “in consonance with our Constitution and the VFA.”
President Benigno Aquino earlier said the Philippines was looking to the United States for help in building up its defense capability in the midst of maritime tensions with China over territories in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) and other security concerns.
Aquino said the Philippines had asked the United States for F-16 fighter jets, as well as patrol vessels, transport aircraft and radar systems, and was awaiting delivery of a second Hamilton-class cutter.
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