American troops may conduct more trainings in the Philippines as part of an “increased presence” in the Asia-Pacific, a defense official said Thursday.

Three officials of the Department of National Defense are now in Washington to discuss the possible increase in military trainings and assistance that the US may give to the Armed Forces of the Philippines, DND spokesman Peter Paul Galvez said.

“Increased frequency (of military exercises), that’s one of the matters na madi-discuss, kung ano bang konsepto niyan, kasi ang VFA (Visiting Forces Agreement) may protocol diyan,” Galvez said in a phone interview.

“Aside from that, ‘yung modernization (ng Armed Forces), kung anong assistance ang meron, it’s a periodic dialogue, a bilateral stretegic dialogue,” he said.

Colonel Arnulfo Burgos, Armed Forces spokesman, said the military “looks forward to more bilateral exercises and undertakings.”

“The partnership between our two countries’ military organizations remains healthy… It continues to highlight the unswerving commitment of our security forces towards a more secure Asia-Pacific region,” Burgos added.

Undersecretary for Legal and Legislative Affairs and Strategic Concerns Pio Lorenzo Batino, Asec. for Strategic Assessment Raymund Jose Quilop, at Asec. for Plans and Programs Danilo Augusto Francia may start talks with their US counterparts Friday.

Earlier, the Washington Post reported that the Philippines and US are in talks aimed at sending more troops and assets amid China’s assertiveness in the Asia-Pacific, particularly the South China Sea (called West Philippine Sea by Manila).

Agreements to base thousands of US Marines in Australia and station Navy warships in Singapore have already been reached, and an accord with the Philippines may be next, according to the report.

“No basing here, only exercises,” Galvez said when asked if the US plans to station troops in the Philippines.

It has been two decades since Manila evicted US troops from Clark Airbase and the Subic Naval Base on Luzon Island facing the South China Sea.

Galvez admitted that the talks will also touch on China’s maritime issue with its neighbors.

“Kailangan nating ayusin diyan kung paano yung freedom of navigation, kina-clarify natin yung conduct natin on the sea… kasama din natin dito ‘yung US sa issues, kaya nga we welcome that they agree with us on our rules-based and multilateral approach and also on the purview of international laws,” he said. (John Roson)

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