MANILA - Defense Secretary William S. Cohen announced yesterday a program to help the Philippines rebuild its aging military forces.
U.S. and Philippine military forces will hold a large-scale joint exercise this year and a delegation of Philippine military officials will visit Washington in December.
The cooperation between Manila and Washington comes only seven years after the Philippines shut down two strategic U.S. bases: Clark Air Base and the naval port at Subic Bay.
Philippine Defense Secretary Orlando Mercado said the military is facing a "myriad" of problems but is most in need of transport capabilities like C-130 aircraft and new helicopters.
"As our forces work together, the United States is prepared to assist the Filipino military efforts," Mr. Cohen said. "We have established an interagency working group to address the issues, both in Washington and here in the Philippines."
The Philippines parliament recently ratified a new agreement called the Visiting Forces Agreement that governs visits by U.S. ships and other military forces.
At a news conference yesterday, Mr. Cohen also urged China and the Philippines to resolve their differences over the resource-rich Spratly Islands and avoid "aggression."
Mr. Cohen said the United States has not taken a legal position on the various claims to sovereignty over the group of islets in the South China Sea claimed by China, Philippines and several other Asian nations.
"But we do reject very strongly any country taking unilateral action to assert sovereignty over the Spratlys," Mr. Cohen said during a press conference with Mr. Mercado.
The Philippine armed forces several years ago bombed Chinese structures on the Spratlys and recently detained several Chinese fisherman who were operating near the islands. …