US: Drone came from Guam drill-A A +A
Tuesday, January 8, 2013
MANILA -- An unarmed target drone found off Masbate was launched from a US Navy ship during a combat exercise off Guam last year and may have been washed by ocean currents to the country, officials said Tuesday.
US Embassy spokeswoman Bettina Malone said the BQM-74E drone was launched from the USS Chafee, a guided-missile destroyer, as a mock missile target during naval combat exercises off Guam's coast in September.
The Philippine navy deployed a ship with ordnance experts after a diver and fishermen who found the drone over the weekend reported it may have been a bomb. The discovery sparked concerns because US troops are allowed to engage in exercises with local troops but are legally barred from engaging in combat operations in the country.
A joint commission overlooking annual combat exercises by US and Philippine troops, as well as American ship visits has been asked to look into the drone's discovery.
Activist group Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) also urged the Senate on Tuesday to investigate the US military’s use of drones in the Philippines.
“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.
Senator Loren Legarda, who heads the Philippine Senate committee on foreign relations, asked the commission to check if any of the rules governing visits by American forces in the country had been breached.
The drone's discovery in Philippine waters "raises a serious concern of national security," Legarda said.
Bayan Muna lawmakers Teddy Casiño and Neri Colmenares also called for a separate probe in the House of Representatives, 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.
He said the Philippine government should take a position on whether it will file a protest involving the recovered drone.
But Department of Foreign Affairs spokesman Raul Hernandez said the Philippine government has been assured by the US Embassy "that the reported aerial vehicle is by design and purpose solely used for target practice and not armed or used for surveillance."
“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.
Hernandez assured that the presence and activities of US military personnel in the Philippines is governed by the 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.
The US drone, found in the waters off Ticao Island in Masbate, is now under the custody of the Philippine Navy. (AP/Kathrina Alvarez/JCV/Sunnex)