A US Navy drone found off the coast of Patnanungan in Quezon province was not carrying weapons and was not being used for surveillance, according to the US Embassy in Manila.
In a statement on Tuesday, the embassy said the “unarmed aerial target” found on January 4 (Sunday) “is an expanded BQM-74E Aerial Target” launched during naval exercise Valiant Shield 2014 on September 15 to 23 in waters off Guam.
“The BQM-74E Aerial Target is used by surface ships and aircraft during exercises to help train our sailors in a realistic environment that provides the best possible training,” the statement added.
“During the exercise, all aerial operations were conducted in international airspace or with appropriate coordination and approval in Guam air space,” it said.
According to reports, the orange drone was first spotted around 4 p.m. on Sunday in Patnanungan in Sitio Katakian, Barangay Busdak.
In January 2013, another unarmed US Navy target drone was found off the waters of Masbate.
Back then, the US Embassy said it was launched from a US Navy ship during a combat exercise off Guam in September 2012, and it might have been washed away by ocean currents.
A Filipino lawmaker also on Tuesday accused the US government of disguising its unlawful drone operations in the Philippines by promising to defend the country against China’s aggression in the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).
“We fear that the US military is exploiting the growing tension in the West Philippine Sea to deploy spy planes and warships in our territory. In the guise of protecting the Philippine claim over disputed shoals and reefs, the US military may in fact be surveying the area to assess the value of its oil and mineral reserves which their country surely has interest in,” Kabataan party-list Rep. Terry Ridon, a lawyer, said also on Tuesday.
While there is a need for Manila to strengthen its hold over territories that Beijing has”systematically grabbed,” Ridon added that the Philippines should be wary of foreign countries such as the United States that intervene in the conflict for economic and political supremacy in the Asia-Pacific region.
The Department of Foreign Affairs earlier confirmed that US Navy surveillance planes are conducting routine maritime patrols in the contested areas of the West Philippine Sea.
“This is not the first time that a US spy plane has been spotted on Philippine territory. This is too much. The last time I checked, the Philippines is not part of US territory, yet the US military is acting as if we’ve already been annexed to the US,” Ridon said.
He has filed House Resolution 1164, which designates s the House Committee on Foreign Affairs and Committee on Information and Communications Technology to conduct a joint congressional inquiry into the scope of American spying programs.
“While the US peddles lopsided agreements such as the newly-inked Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement as a way to supposedly boost the Philippines’ national defense, the US government is also covertly expanding its web of intelligence through aerial and mobile snooping, a move inimical to the Philippines’ national security. In no instance can surveillance by a foreign power over another sovereign state be justified,” Ridon said.
WITH LLANESCA T. PANTI