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Philippines Seeks US Help to Protect Troops in Disputed Sea

Philippine Armed Forces Chief General Hernando Iriberri (R) stands next with visiting U.S. Navy Admiral Harry Harris, Commander of U.S. Pacific Fleet at Camp Aguinaldo in Quezon City, Metro Manila in the Philippines, Aug. 26, 2015.

Senior U.S. and Philippines military officials have met in Manila, in an effort to expand defense ties as tensions worsen around China's disputed territorial claims in the South China Sea.

The commander of the U.S. Pacific Command, Admiral Harry Harris, was received with full military honors Wednesday at the Philippines armed forces headquarters.

Harris and his Philippine counterpart, General Hernando Iriberri, discussed security issues, including the South China Sea, according to Philippines military spokesman Restituto Padilla.

"What transpired during the dialogue was a very frank and honest exchange of ideas regarding the evolving security challenges in the region as a result of natural disasters and issues involving the West Philippine Sea and South China Sea," he said.

Admiral Harris also met with other senior leaders, including President Benigno Aquino and other defense officials.

US military escort

During one of the meetings, Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin requested that U.S. military patrol planes help escort Philippine supply ships in the contested South China Sea, according to the Associated Press. The request could not be confirmed.

The Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan all have competing claims with China in the South China Sea, which is rich in natural resources, is a main trade route, and holds important symbolic and national value.

The United States, which says it does not take sides in the territorial disputes, has increased its maritime security cooperation with Manila and other regional militaries in recent years. Washington has said freedom of navigation in the region must be preserved and disputes be resolved peacefully.