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MANILA, Philippines - (UPDATE 3, 6:40 p.m.) A US-made unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) crashed off the waters of Masbate Sunday, police said.
Belated reports from Senior Supt. Heriberto Olitoquit, provincial police director, said the drone with model BQM-74E Chukar III crashed off the waters of Sitio Tacdugan, San Jacinto Sunday morning.
Olitoquit said local fishermen who recovered the drone and brought it to shore first thought it was a bomb. But local police who arrived at the scene examined the item and found it to be a US-made drone with a length of 12 feet 11 inches, a wingspan of 5 feet 9 inches, and a height of 2 feet 4 inches.
It was not yet known who launched it or for what it was meant for.
Not armed and not for surveillance - US embassy
Asked about the UAV, Tina Malone, spokeswoman of the US embassy in Manila, said that while the US embassy is finding out how and when the drone landed in the sea, she assured that it is neither armed nor used for surveillance.
"We are aware of reports that an apparently US-made unmanned aerial vehicle was recovered in the waters off of Masbate this weekend. The recovered vehicle appears to be of the sort that is used as an air defense target in training exercises," Malone said in response to a text message.
"This type of vehicle is not armed and not used for surveillance. We are trying to confirm this interpretation and to determine how and when it may have landed in the sea," she said.
Asked if the use of such drones are allowed under the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) between the Philippines and the United States, Edilberto Adan, executive director of the Presidential Commission on the VFA (VFACom), said he has been trying to get more details about the drone.
Adan had a similar comment as Malone's. He said that as a target drone, it does not appear to be armed or used for surveillance.
In any case, he said, his office is trying to find out if it was used in any of the recent joint military exercises of Philippine and American forces - the guidelines for which are provided by the VFA.
"We don't know a lot of things at this time - if it's froom any of the recent exercises, whose it is, where it actually landed," he said in a phone interview with InterAksyon.com.
"It might have been used in exercises outside Philippine territory and carried by the sea currents into the Masbate seas," Adan said.
No explosive device found
Confirming that the drone was "used primarily as a realistic aerial target capable of simulating enemy threats for gunnery and missile training exercises," Masbate police found no explosive device on the drone that can pose a threat to residents.
The Philippine Navy, meanwhile, could not give more details on the matter.
"We do not want to give any interpretation (on the presence of a US drone)...actually that’s the same thing we're asking now," said Capt. Rommel Galang, deputy commander, Naval Forces Southern Luzon.
Navy spokesman Col. Omar Tonsay, meanwhile, said they have yet to obtain the entire details on the crash of the drone.
The US drone was believed to be used for reconnaissance.
Police had initially thought it was a bomb and alerted police about the unusual discovery, Olitoquit said.
"A technical evaluation determined that the object is one unmanned aerial vehicle," Olitoquit told reporters.
Olitoquit said the drone had been turned over to the Philippine Navy, which would then conduct a thorough investigation of the drone.
"It appears to have been floating for quite some time," Captain Rommel Galang, deputy commander of naval forces in the area, told AFP.
"We will first study this drone but initially it appears to be a UAV used largely in reconnaissance."
He said it had inscriptions and a serial number that "indicate it is an American drone".
Galang said the US embassy had been informed of the discovery and local authorities would eventually turn it over to them.
Manila allowed overfly but no strikes
In an interview with AFP last year, President Benigno Aquino III confirmed that the Philippines has been allowing US drones to overfly its territory for reconnaissance flights, but were not allowed to make strikes.
About 600 US forces have been rotating in the southern Philippines since 2002 as part of the US government's global war on terror.
However the drone was found in Masbate, many hundreds of kilometers from the Muslim insurgency-racked areas where no US troops are known to operate.
Masbate is one of the areas where communists waging a decades-long rebellion have long operated.
With reports from Veronica Uy, InterAksyon.com