ZAMBOANGA CITY: The Philippines will use unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to fight illegal logging in the Mindanao provinces of Davao Oriental and Compostela Valley, a known stronghold of communist rebels.
The use of drones in combating illegal logging is a joint project of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).
Militant groups strongly suspect the drones are being flown to spy on or even attack communist rebels and Muslim rebels.
The League of Filipino Students (LFS) and Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) said the use of spy planes is not new despite the “colossal denial” of President Benigno Aquino 3rd.
The group said a recent New York Times article by Mark Mazzeti called “The Drone Zone” claims that the United States conducted at least one drone strike in Mindanao.
“Under the Aquino regime’s Oplan Bayanihan, Davao is the most militarized region in the
country with the presence of 21 military battalions under the three infantry divisions of AFP-1st ID, 4th ID and 10th ID—and this resulted in 11 cases of extrajudicial killing in the region alone and widespread displacement of lumads and farmers due to military atrocities,” Arnielyn Nudalo, LFS-UM spokesman, said in a statement sent to The Mania Times.
“The Aquino government and AFP cannot fool the people. If it is truly sincere in protecting the environment, then the Aquino regime should not allow foreign and large scale mining and logging in the region,” Nudalo said.
He said the reasoning of DENR and AFP to use drone to intensify anti-illegal logging operation is “unbelievable and unthinkable.”
“It is dubious to say that drone plane be deployed in the region just to track down illegal loggers and be used for the implementation of national greening program of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources. It is a common knowledge that Davao Oriental and Compostela Valley are the stronghold areas of the New People’s Army,” it said.
Bayan said UAVs fall into two categories—those that are used for reconnaissance and surveillance and those that are armed with missiles and bombs. A low-cost drone, it said, costs anywhere from $5 million to $10 million.
It is not known whether the drones the government will launch are armed.
In an article in The Guardian, the American Civil Liberties Union stated that as many as 4,000 people have been killed in US drone strikes since 2002. A significant proportion of the fatalities was civilians. The numbers killed have escalated significantly since Barack Obama became US president, according to LFS.
The Philippine military used China-made remote-controlled hobby helicopters and airplanes to spot and spy on rebel strongholds. But US troops deployed in Mindanao have a fleet of UAVs that fly over known communist and Moro rebel strongholds in the region, and some of them had crashed at sea or recovered by the rebels themselves.