Duterte says no to US drones

DAVAO CITY, Philippines - Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte disclosed that the US government had asked him and his daughter, former mayor Sara Duterte, to use the city as an operating base for its unmanned aerial vehicles in its campaign against terrorism.

"The US government wanted to use the old airport. I refused. I will not allow them to use our airport for them to launch their drones," Duterte said.

Duterte said the US requested to utilize the city’s old airport, which is beside the tactical base of the Philippine Air Force, as its base in Mindanao.

"I do not want it. I do not want trouble and killings," Duterte told Moro men and women in a meeting on Monday, August 12. The last request was made when his daughter Sara was still mayor, Duterte said. Duterte reclaimed his mayoral seat in 2013, succeeding his daughter.

“They will only use it and this would only bring trouble,” Duterte said.

Some sectors have criticized the Philippine government for allowing the US to operate drones in Mindanao against terrorists.

Drone zone?

In a July 6, 2012 New York Times article by Mark Mazzetti, "The Drone Zone," it was alleged that the Philippines is among the countries in the world where the US conducted lethal drone operations – a charge denied by US military officers, Filipino intelligence officials and the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

But this was denied by the former US commander of the Joint-Special Operations Task Force-Philippines (JSOTF-P), Army Col David Maxwell. “In all my time in the Philippines in between 2001 and 2007, there has never been a Predator or Reaper deployed, and there have been no Hellfire missiles, let alone ‘a barrage of Hellfire missiles,’” Maxwell told Rappler.

In the Philippines, drones are used only for surveillance, according to Philippine and US officials.

President Benigno Aquino III himself said last year that a drone strike handled by the Americans may violate the Philippine Constitution. US troops, Mr Aquino said, “are here as advisers. They are here as trainers. They cannot participate in combat operations.”

On Wednesday, August 14, both countries begin formal talks on a new agreement that will allow increased rotational presence of US troops in the Philippines and boost maritime security.

In Davao, officials and residents have been wary of US presence in the region.

On May 16, 2002, an American believed to be special operations agent of the US identified as Michael Meiring suffered from injuries after a bomb exploded in his hotel room in Davao City.

Investigation said the bomb belonged to Meiring who defended himself by saying that he is a treasure hunter.

While being guarded by local police forces in a hospital, Meiring was whisked off by agents from the US Federal Bureau of Investigation and transported him back to the US.

In an article published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer last 2011, Duterte said he believes that the US is conducting covert operations against Moros in Davao City and Mindanao.

Duterte said he suspected that Meiring and the explosion were connected to the covert operations of the US on the island.

Duterte said the last time the US attempted to convince him about the drones was after the Meiring incident and that the most recent attempt was during Sara’s term. “I will still talk to them but I will still refuse to grant their request,” Duterte said.

Sheena Duazo, spokesperson of the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan-Southern Mindanao, praised Duterte for his stand. "We commend and firmly support the decision of the mayor not to allow drone operations in the city. The use of unmanned aerial vehicles/drone is a clear violation of our national sovereignty," Duazo said. - Rappler.com