DAVAO CITY – Four Manila-based aerial surveyors reported missing last week in Maco, Compostela Valley were actually held by the New People’s Army for conducting drone surveillance in guerrilla base seemingly for mining purposes.
The surveyors and one driver were released Monday to Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte but were warned by the NPA to refrain from conducting intelligence surveillance in guerrilla base areas.
They were presented to the mayor at Holcim Cement but declined to issue statements to the media. Names were also withheld as requested by their families.
In a statement, NPA Comval Davao Gulf Subregional Command spokesperson Ka Daniel Ibarra said they identified the four personnel working for Sky Eye UAV Services, a Manila-based company specializing in drone surveillance.
The company was hired by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources Region 11 last year to survey the progress of the National Greening Program in the provinces of Davao region including Davao del Norte, Compostela Valley and Davao Oriental, the NPA said.
The NPA further said SkyEye, which is owned by Matt Cua and Carlos Ezekiel, had started surveillance operations in 2013 in Kapalong, Davao del Norte; Monkayo and Montevista towns in Compostela Valley, Polomolok,Tacloban, Panay, and Appari areas.
But the NPA suspected the motive as they claimed Maco was not a logging hotspot.
“The motives of Sky Eye’s reconnaissance are suspicious, considering that Maco is not a hotspot for logging as its forests are largely denuded and its mountains mainly mineral-rich,” Ibarra said.
Ibarra said the company’s surveillance was made in mining areas.
“It would appear that Sky Eye is mainly protecting, if not linked towards the big mining operations in Maco and mountain boundaries of Pantukan and Mabini, areas under the control of foreign large scale mining concessionaires Apex Mining and St. Augustine Mining Corp. The DENR’s UAV use is far from protecting the environment, but is mainly to defend the interest of the big mining companies that are guilty of destroying and plundering our environment,” he added.
The surveyors went to Maco on May 28. The NPA spotted and held them on May 30 in Barangay New Leyte as they were conducting mapping surveillance through their drones using high definition cameras and videos.
Ibarra said they confiscated from them one sky surfer drone and two multi-rotor drones, two laptops and one GPS machine.
He said the surveyors violated their policy “for bringing in of surveillance gadgets, for undertaking reconnaissance of base guerrillas of the New People’s Army and, thus, abetting the enemy’s counter-revolutionary campaign against the revolutionary forces and environmental plunder.”
The NPA maintained a policy of denouncing the use of drones which they said are “ultimately indiscriminate weapons of mass genocide and civilian destruction.”
“The UAVs are not only surveillance gadgets but are also weapons for aerial attacks and strikes, designed and used by US imperialism. Most well-known among drones is the Predator and the Reaper, which have carried out assassinations and massacres in the Middle East, Asia and North Africa. Thousands of civilians have been killed by these drone air strikes,” their statement said.
Ibarra said they first sighted drones on May 2008 operated by four United States soldiers during an operation with the Philippine Army’s 1003rd Brigade in Barangay Ngan, Compostela town of Comval.
He added that similar looking gadgets were found in Paquibato and Marilog Districts in Davao last year.
The same year, Duterte revealed that he turned down a bid from the US intelligence to establish a drone headquarters in the old domestic airport in Sasa.
Meanwhile, Maco Mayor Alvera Rimando told reporters that neither SkyEye nor DENR coursed through her office for coordination on their surveillance in the town. (davaotoday.com)