MANILA, Philippines—The discovery of a downed US-made unmanned aerial vehicle, or drone, in the waters off Masbate on Sunday has revived calls for the termination of the Visiting Forces Agreement between the Philippines and the United States.
Akbayan Representative Walden Bello believes that drones are being deployed in the country, but that the Philippines and the United States have just been denying the matter. He believes Philippine sovereignty, as well as the terms of the VFA, have been violated in the process.
Bello said a July 6, 2012 article from the New York Times stated that US drones sent missiles to a suspected insurgent camp in Mindanao in an effort to kill suspected Indonesian terrorist Umar Patek. He said he had called the attention of Philippine authorities to the report, but the latter denied this.
“The recovered drone proves my point. I think it is being used to spy against insurgents, and this is against the terms of the VFA. This underscores all the more the importance of passing Sen. [Miriam Defensor] Santiago and my resolution seeking the immediate abrogation of the VFA,” he said in a text message.
Bello and Santiago filed the measure to scrap the VFA last year following allegations that a US Navy contractor dumped untreated waste in the waters off Subic.
Bayan Muna Representative Neri Colmenares also said the recent incident adds to the reason for the scrapping of the controversial VFA.
Colmenares said the US was using the agreement “as cover for impinging on our territory and sovereignty and for their self-serving interest.”
He also said the country’s laws also make it illegal for foreigners to deploy military weapons here.
Given all these, congress must lead an investigation into the circumstances behind the “dangerous” drone’s deployment to determine who could be held criminally liable, he said
The US-made drone was recovered off Masbate’s Ticao Island on Sunday, and its discovery triggered a lot of questions and speculations.
The US Embassy said the four-meter target drone was the kind usually used in military training, and the one found off Masbate was not armed or used for intelligence gathering.
Other militant lawmakers also called for an in-depth probe of the “alarming” incident, and further said Malacañang must disclose what it knows of the circumstances behind the recovered US drone, especially since it raises the question of whether or not Philippine sovereignty was violated.
Bayan Muna Representative Teddy Casiño said Malacañang should say if it knew of the drone’s deployment, and who gave the clearance for the operation, if any. If it was authorized, the legal basis for it must also be given, he said.
But if it was unauthorized, he said the palace should say if it would file a protest or not.
“The answers to these questions are of paramount importance and have to be provided lest a cover up is being done. It appears that the US is infringing upon our territorial sovereignty with impunity,” he said.
ACT Teachers Representative Antonio Tinio also said the purpose for the drone’s deployment must be thoroughly explained.
He noted that the last known Balikatan exercises with US troops in the Bicol region took place back in April 2009.
He also wants to know if the drone could have endangered the lives of Filipinos.
“Aside from constitutional and legal questions, could the drone have posed a threat to public safety?” he said.