Manila OKs pact allowing drills with Aussie troops
Manila: The Philippine Senate on Tuesday ratified an accord that would allow Australian troops to train in combat exercises with Filipino forces in the country, a long-delayed pact backed by many lawmakers who were alarmed by Manila's territorial conflicts with China.
Senator Loren Legarda, a key proponent, said the agreement that was approved by 17 of 23 senators would bolster national defence.
Tensions with China have risen recently over territorial disputes in the South China Sea.
The presence of foreign troops has been a contentious issue in the Philippines, a former American colony.
The Philippine Constitution forbids foreign troops from permanently basing in the country and the Senate must ratify agreements governing activities by visiting troops.
The Philippines has a similar 1999 pact with the United States and has allowed American forces to stay since 2002 to train and arm Filipino soldiers battling al Qaeda-linked militants.
Legarda said she voted to reject such an agreement with the US in the late 1990s but decided to back the Australian accord, which has been pending in the Senate for four years, due to current security concerns facing the country.
"Today's security challenges require that we strengthen our defence posture through a regime of cooperation with allies," Legarda said.
Senator Eduardo Angara said he backed the agreement because the Philippines needed "a network of protective friends" amid a "threat posed by a very powerful country that already extends its claims close to the doorstep of our territory."