Manila: A proposed increase in the US military presence in the Philippines, including the pre-positioning of equipment, will help the country defend its territorial waters amid a conflict with China in the South China Sea, officials said.
The countries will start talks Wednesday in Manila on an agreement that will allow more American troops to rotate through Philippine military bases, government negotiator Carlos Sorreta said on Sunday.
Hundreds of American troops already have been stationed in the southern Philippines for counter-terrorism training since 2002 and also hold annual combat exercises with Filipino troops dealing with Muslim and communist insurgents, along with al Qaeda-linked militants.
But the focus of the Philippine military has increasingly turned to external threats as territorial spats involving China, the Philippines and Vietnam heated up in recent years in the potentially oil- and gas-rich waters.
Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario said the Philippines was bent on resorting to diplomacy to resolve the disputes, but stressed the government would do everything to protect its territory.
"Our region needs to know that we are steadfastly for peace," del Rosario said. "But that we stand ready to tap every resource, to call on every alliance, to do what is necessary, to defend what is ours, to secure our nation and to keep our people safe."
Del Rosario spoke at a news conference with Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin to present the four-member government team that will negotiate the agreement for the deployment of more American forces in Philippine military camps besides those in the south of the country.
Gazmin said the bigger US presence would not be permanent and would comply with the constitution, which bans the permanent basing of foreign troops.
While the ill-equipped Philippine military tries to modernize, a larger US military presence would serve as an added deterrent against foreign intrusions in the country`s territorial waters, del Rosario said.
Another government negotiator, Defense Undersecretary Pio Lorenzo Batino, said the Philippines would want to be able to use temporarily deployed US military equipment for maritime security, maritime domain awareness and humanitarian assistance.