Group calls for Senate probe into US drone activity-A A +A
Tuesday, January 8, 2013
MANILA (Updated) -- Activist group Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) urged the Senate on Tuesday to investigate the US military’s use of drones in the Philippines.
The call came after a suspected American drone -- an unmanned aerial vehicle -- was discovered in the waters near Masbate province on Monday.
The US drone is now under the custody of the Philippine Navy.
“Whether it is an aerial target drone, a surveillance drone or an attack drone, there are no clear guidelines on the use of these unmanned aerial vehicles in PH territory. It appears that the US government has been using the Visiting Forces Agreement to gain unrestricted movement in PH airspace,” said Bayan secretary general Renato Reyes Jr. in a statement.
“The unrestricted use of US drones in PH (Philippines) airspace is a violation of our national sovereignty. No sovereign nation would allow a foreign power unhampered use of domestic airspace. Do you think the US will allow the Philippines the same privilege in US airspace?” Reyes added.
Calling for a separate probe in the House of Representatives are Bayan Muna lawmakers Teddy Casiño and Neri Colmenares, as they suspected that drones could be used to map Philippine territories rich in natural resources.
"Congress should investigate dangerous drones which can also be used in surveying mineral resources like oil, gold and other rich resources. The VFA must be scrapped as this is used by the US as cover for impinging on our territory and sovereignty for their self-serving interest," Colmenares said in a text message.
Casiño, for his part, said the incident is alarming considering its potential infringement on the country's territorial sovereignty.
Casiño said the Philippine government should take a position on whether it will file a protest involving the recovered drone.
Bayan said the US should also explain if it was conducting live fire exercises in Masbate, and if this was done with the knowledge of the Philippine government.
In a statement, the US Embassy admitted the aerial vehicle came from Guam where the US military had been holding military exercises.
“The unarmed target drone that washed ashore off the coast of Masbate island is an expended BQM-74E Aerial Target Drone that was launched from the USS Chafee (DDG 90) during exercise Valiant Shield on September 19, 2012 off the coast of Guam. It appears that ocean currents brought the drone to where it washed ashore last week off Masbate island,” said embassy spokesperson Tina Malone.
Foreign Affairs spokesperson Raul Hernandez said the DFA has been assured by the US embassy that the presence of the aerial drone is “by design and purpose, solely used for target practice and not armed or used for surveillance.”
Hernandez also said the presence and activities of US military personnel in the Philippines is governed by the visiting forces agreement (VFA) between the two countries.
He said that VFA Commission executive officer, retired General Ed Adan, has been instructed to look into the matter and to file a report.
“This matter will be dealt with in accordance with the treaty obligations contained in this agreement,” he said.
“We are also coordinating this matter with our DND as well as with the concerned US embassy officials. We would like to assure the public that every effort is being taken to address this issue,” the DFA official added.
Reyes noted that the US drone, a BQM-74E Chukar III, found in the waters off Ticao Island in Masbate, was not the first to be recovered in Philippine territory.
The Bayan leader cited a report of the New York Times last year, saying several US officials admitted to conducting a drone strike in 2006 in Southern Philippines in an attempt to kill Indonesian terrorist Umar Patek.
The Philippine government had denied such drone strike. (Kathrina Alvarez/JCV/Sunnex)