A total of 2,665 U.S. troops in stead of the 1,700 reportedly earlier, are going to the Philippines in April for the second phase of the Philippine-U.S. joint military exercises.
The second-phase exercises are set in the central of Luzon island in the north, the Philippine Daily Inquirer on-line news Thursday quoted Philippine Defense Secretary Angelo Reyes as saying.
The Armed Forces of the Philippine (AFP) spokesperson Edilberto Adan announced on Tuesday that he was expecting only 1,700 American soldiers to come in April for the joint exercises.
He said amphibious landing and field trainings, which will be held in the northern provinces of Nueva Ecija, Pampanga and Cavite, are going to involve about 2,100 Philippine troops.
Reyes said that in addition to the first and second phase of the ongoing joint exercises coded Balikatan 02-1 and 02-2, another 10 smaller-scale military exercises involving U.S. troops would be held in the country for the rest of this year.
Reyes also said the U.S. is proposing to merge the Balikatan with a larger military exercise called "Team Challenge" that would involve several other countries including Australia, South Korea and Thailand. But he stressed that the Balikatan is still bilateral, not multilateral.
However, some Philippine lawmakers who have been alert upon the growing number of U.S. troops here expressed their fear that the U. S. side would like to seek permanent military presence in the country.
President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo said the arrival of thousands of U.S. troops should not alarm the public since it is part of the war games provided by the Philippine-U.S. Visiting Forces Agreement ratified by the Philippine Senate in 1999. She added that up 5,000 U.S. troops will arrive in 2002 for the training.
In addition to the 660 U.S. forces currently taking part in the joint military exercises in the southern Philippines, the U.S. also requests to send another batch of 300 U.S. troops for the training program.
Several thousand Filipino soldiers, aided by the American elite troops, are hunting down the Abu Sayyaf kidnap-for-ransom group which is still holding an American missionary couple and a Filipino nurse.