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US and Philippine officials began negotiations in Manila on Wednesday to allow US forces increased access to bases and facilities—but not a permanent presence—in the Southeast Asian nation, reported Voice of America. Greater US military visitation would allow for "high-impact and high-value exercises that will benefit both sides," said Philippine deputy presidential spokeswoman Abigail Valte, reported The Philippine Star. The main objectives of an agreement are to build a credible defense for the Philippines and improve disaster-response capabilities, she said. In July, US Pacific Command boss Adm. Samuel Locklear told reporters at the Pentagon that US officials were making good progress in finding common ground for shared-access agreements with the Philippines. Philippine officials have made no secret their desire for increased military ties with the United States as a bulwark against an increasingly aggressive China, which continues to press disputes with the Philippines over maritime territorial claims. (See Locklear transcript.)