MANILA, Philippines (AP) — Australia and the Philippines will discuss greater security cooperation and visits by Australian forces for exercises with Filipino troops under a newly approved pact, Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said Sunday.
The Status of Visiting Forces Agreement, ratified by the Philippine Senate in July, allows Australian troops to hold combat exercises with Filipino forces in the Philippines. It had been pending for four years but received backing this year from previously reluctant senators alarmed by recent territorial disputes with China in the South China Sea.
Australia earlier approved the agreement, which both sides signed in 2007.
Gazmin said Australian Defense Minister Stephen Smith plans to visit early next year to discuss joint field exercises that would include training in natural disasters, terrorism and other threats.
The Philippines has a similar 1999 pact with the United States, which is also a treaty ally. American and Philippine forces hold large-scale combat exercises every year. Hundreds of American counterterrorism troops have been allowed to stay in the south since 2002 to train Filipino soldiers battling al-Qaida-linked militants.
"It would be good if Australia will also become a strategic partner," Gazmin said.
The presence of foreign troops is a sensitive issue in the Philippines, a former American colony. The Philippine Constitution forbids foreign troops from being permanently based in the country and the Senate must ratify agreements governing temporary visits by outside forces.