MANILA, Jan. 27 (Xinhua) -- The Philippines would conduct more joint military drills with the United States, and not bring back the American military bases in the country, a senior official said on Friday.
Presidential Communications Development and Strategic Planning Secretary Ramon Carandang said what the Philippines and the U.S. are discussing is "enhanced defense cooperation".
He said the discussions are still in an early stage but nothing has been finalized.
"Certain measures to enhance the defense capability of the Philippines and our cooperation with the U.S. are being considered. None of these initiatives involve any kind of base arrangements similar to what we had prior to 1991," Carandang said.
He said the 2012 Balikatan (shoulder to shoulder) exercises, which are meant to improve the combat readiness and capability of Philippine troops to respond to threats and disasters, are still being planned to ensure their success.
"The Aquino administration, since it came into office, has been working very hard to enhance our defense capabilities, particularly our maritime capabilities. We're doing this in cooperation not just with the United States, but also with Australia and other Asian neighbors. So that's part and parcel of our efforts to enhance our defense capabilities," he said.
This year, the Philippines and the U.S. are planning to hold joint military exercises in Palawan. The Balikatan is an annual Philippine-U.S. bilateral military humanitarian assistance and training exercise under the Mutual Defense Treaty and the Visiting Forces Agreement.
Carandang said the Philippines' defense capability has lagged behind its neighbors in the past decades while the U.S. is seeking to expand its engagement in the Asia Pacific region.
The Philippine Senate voted in 1991 to close U.S. military bases in the country.