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MANILA, Philippines -- (UPDATE - 10:25 a.m.) Activist groups on Tuesday called for congressional inquiries into the crash of a United States-made drone in waters off Masbate, which they called a "violation of our national sovereignty."
The drone, a BQM-74E Chukar III -- described as an aerial target drone used in military exercises -- crashed off Ticao Island Sunday morning and was discovered by local fishermen. Police said locals initially thought it was a bomb and panicked.
Bayan Muna party-list Representative Teddy Casino raised questions he said Philippine and US authorities should answer.
“What was the drone doing there and what is its mission? Was the Philippines government aware of its presence and operation? Who gave the clearances for such an operation? What is the legal basis if indeed clearance was given? If no clearance was obtained, will the government file a protest?” Casino asked.
“The answers to these questions are of paramount importance and have to be provided at once lest a cover up is being done. It appears that the US is infringing upon our territorial sovereignty with impunity,” he added.
The Masbate chapter of the fisherfolk group Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas called the drone’s recovery “a political-military manifestation that the US military is engaged in direct military intervention and aggression in the country,” with the group’s vice chairman, Salvador France, going so far as to surmise that it could have been used to monitor the presence of the New People’s Army in the area.
But the US embassy and the Philippine military have said the drone was unarmed and not used for surveillance.
Renato Reyes Jr., secretary general of the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan, said it was immaterial what the drone was used for.
“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 Philippine territory,” Renato said. “It appears that the US government has been using the Visiting Forces Agreement to gain unrestricted movement in Philippine airspace.”
Reyes said the use of drones within Philippine territory poses more questions about the VFA, Article 8, Section 3 of which provides that “aircraft operated by or for the United States armed forces shall observe local air traffic control regulations while in
"This does not seem to hold true for US drones," Reyes observed.
“The problem with US drones is that they can be used for surveillance and they can be used for actual combat operations. We have a situation where a foreign power can fly anytime and anywhere it wants, undertake surveillance, and on occasion, even participate in actual combat operations. Drones underscore US direct involvement in internal conflict in the Philippines,” he added.
Bayan said the US government should come clean if it was conducting live fire exercises in the area and, if so, if these were with the consent of the Philippine government.
Reyes said this was not the first time a US drone has been reported operating in the Philippines.
He cited a New York Times report last year that quoted US officials as admitting that a drone strike in 2006 in Mindanao was launched in an attempt to kill a suspected