CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY, Philippines – Cagayan de Oro officials called for clear and stricter regulations on the use of military drones as an offshoot of the May 28 crash of one of the Philippine Air Force’s light plane-size drones in a Bukidnon town near the city.
One of the city’s councilors on Sunday, June 5, even asked the PAF to consider moving the base of its 10th Tactical Operations Group (TOG) in Northern Mindanao elsewhere.
Councilor George Goking said the crash of one of PAF’s Israel-made unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) near a popular mountain resort in nearby Baungon town in Bukidnon raised serious public safety concerns in the areas surrounding the old city airport in Barangay Lumbia.
The upland barangay is now sprawling with high-end and low-cost subdivisions that only began to mushroom at the turn of the century. The area used to be characterized by vast tracts of idle land due to its elevation, and the absence of water facilities.
Goking said PAF officials should be called to the city council to address safety concerns about the military aircraft, including light plane-size drones, and to determine if there was a need to recommend the suspension of TOG’s operations at the old Lumbia airport.
Councilor-elect James Judith said he sees the next city council starting an inquiry about the PAF’s operations in Lumbia.
Councilor and vice mayor-elect Jocelyn Rodriguez said the May 28 crash highlighted the need for city hall to come up with clear rules about drones.
“As of now, we don’t have existing local policies regulating public and private drone flights,” Rodriguez told Rappler.
She said city hall would also need to assert its role in monitoring military activities in Lumbia.
“I am of the idea that the local government unit must have an important role, maybe, in monitoring military exercises in that area, including foreign military exercises,” Rodriguez said.
The Lumbia airport, once one of the busiest in Mindanao, ceased to serve commercial flights in 2013, when the government opened the bigger Laguindingan Airport in Misamis Oriental province, between Cagayan de Oro and Iligan cities.
The old airport, which has been placed under the control of PAF, has been identified as one of the places where the US military can set up its facilities under the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA).
Rodriguez said the next city council under her would include the public safety and security concerns vis-à-vis the military operations in Lumbia in its priority agenda.
Local officials, however, said a legal obstacle could prevent PAF from moving elsewhere.
The site of the old airport is covered by a conditional donation – the moment it ceases to be an airport, the property reverts back to the donor.
Goking said the condition was what prevented the city government from pursuing plans to turn the old airport into a township when the Laguindingan Airport opened in 2013.
Mayor Oscar Moreno, for his part, said that while “drones are already part of our daily lives, these have to be properly and effectively regulated.”
Moreno said the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines, the National Telecommunications Commission, the Department of National Defense, Department of the Interior and Local Government, and the Office of Civil Defense need to put their acts together for the safety and regulatory environment pertaining to drones, and their uses and operations.
“Local governments would certainly be involved, but the national policies have to be defined first,” said Moreno.
He added, “Even without Lumbia, there will be drones over the city.”
The public safety concerns were raised as a result of the crash of a Hermes 900 medium-altitude, long-endurance UAV, two hours after it took off from the Lumbia Airport.
The drone, used for military intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance operations, was descending from an altitude of 10,000 feet when the PAF lost communications and control of it while it was flying over a Bukidnon town near the old Cagayan de Oro airport.
The military drone crashed on vegetation near Ultra Winds, a popular mountain resort in Baungon town near Cagayan de Oro. – Rappler.com