Japan and the Philippines are considering expanding defense cooperation to speed up deployment of troops to disaster-hit areas, Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera said Saturday.

“We shared the view that if we could have advance disaster relief framework, or agreement, which enables our forces to be deployed to the Philippines even faster, that would be more meaningful for the future field operations,” Onodera said in a press briefing after meeting with Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin.

Onodera made the remark ahead of his visit to areas devastated by super-typhoon “Yolanda” (Haiyan) on Sunday.

About 1,000 Japanese troops and volunteers are in Leyte province, joining relief operations and providing medical services to typhoon victims.

After his visit, Onodera said Japan will decide if its Self-Defense Forces (JSDF), will withdraw from the Philippines by yearend.

“The decision will be made after I see the affected area tomorrow, but according to the force on the site and according to countries that deployed forces, the necessity or need in the site are changing from emergency relief to reconstruction and recovery phase,” he said.

Onodera, however, noted that Japan’s assistance will continue even after the JSDF leaves.

“It will change and shift to the next stage where the government of Japan [will extend] overall support to the Philippines,” he said. (John Roson)

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