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MANILA, Philippines – The discovery Monday of a US drone has triggered questions from various quarters anxious to know whether authorities have routinely allowed overflies by—and other uses--of such unmanned aerial vehicles in Philippine territory. Or, whether they were even made aware of such activities by foreign powers using them, like the United States, which rotates hundreds of its troops yearly in Philippine territory despite the scuttling of the military bases agreement in 1991.
The militant group Bayan (Bagong Alyansang Makabayan) fired the first salvo within an hour after reports of the UAV broke: "The crash should be probed. Why are us spy planes going around the country?" said Renato Reyes Jr., Bayan secretary general said.
Reyes said the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) cannot be invoked in the incident as it "violates Philippine sovereignty."
"If the US and PH will invoke the VFA, then all the more should this pact be terminated," Reyes said.
The US drone was believed to be used for reconnaissance. Fishermen found the 3.65 meter (12-foot) drone floating off Masbate island and dragged it to shore, said provincial police chief Senior Superintendent Heriberto Olitoquit.
They 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.
Captain Rommel Galang, deputy commander of naval forces in the area, told AFP the drone had inscriptions and a serial number that "indicate it is an American drone".
In an interview with AFP last year, President Benigno Aquino 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 kilometres 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 Abigail Kwok, InterAksyon.com