Palace defends use of US drones in PH

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08:22 AM August 17th, 2013

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By: TJ Burgonio, August 17th, 2013 08:22 AM

Deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte. INQUIRER FILE PHOTO

MANILA, Philippines—While a mayor rejected the basing of United States drones in his city, Malacañang on Friday defended the use in the country of the unmanned aerial vehicle in “special cases.”

Deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte declined to comment on the rejection by Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte of the US government’s request to use the city’s old airport as a base for the launch of drones.

“I am not very cognizant of what went on in that particular conversation,” Valte said in a news briefing.

But otherwise, Valte said the Philippines and the United States shared intelligence information gathered by the drones in joint exercises. She said the drones were also used for humanitarian missions.

“I understand that they are used in special cases,” she said, referring to statements by the secretary of foreign affairs.

Valte deferred to the defense officials to respond to questions on whether Philippine laws are clear on the operation of drones in the archipelago.

Duterte said he rejected the request, made since his daughter was the city mayor, because he didn’t want “trouble and killings.”

The US Embassy explained that the US military deployed drones to assist in aerial surveillance for humanitarian and search-and-rescue operations, and only at the request of the Philippine government.

For instance, drones were deployed for an aerial survey of the devastation wrought by Typhoon “Pablo” in Mindanao in December last year, and in the search for the missing plane of then Local Government Secretary Jesse Robredo in the waters off Masbate a year ago.

Several countries have raised concerns about the US deployment of drones in Yemen, Somalia, Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan to target suspected terrorists,  arguing that some strikes have resulted in  civilian deaths and collateral damage.

In the United States, at least eight states have enacted legislation to control domestic use of drones, citing privacy and safety concerns.

If used for combat operations in the country, the drones would violate the country’s Constitution, analyst Bobby Tuazon said.

“The VFA (Visiting Forces Agreement) does not allow combat operations by US forces,” Tuazon, director for policy studies of the Center for People Empowerment in Governance said in an interview.

In March 2012, President Aquino said the Philippines allowed US drones to conduct reconnaissance flights over the country, but banned drone strikes.

Mr. Aquino said any drone attack would violate the ban on American troops taking part in combat operations.

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