Davao’s public safety office uses drone owned by private firm

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/26 June) — The city’s Public Safety and Security Command Center has added a heavy-duty unmanned aerial vehicle or drone to its fleet of emergency response vehicles.

PSSCC chief Frank Villaroman posted on Facebook Wednesday the test flight footage of a drone which he said was acquired by his private security firm Black Mace.

Villaroman said the drone cost around P120,000, which was assembled and test-flown in two months.

This includes a “high-end camera” worth P26,000 imported from the United States and attached to the drone’s frame chassis, he said.

“The item was bought by my son for my use in my office,” he clarified.

Villaroman said Mayor Rodrigo R. Duterte wanted to buy a unit for the city, but “the Commission on Audit is very rigid [in its rules].”

The unit that Villaroman and his team acquired and assembled is a six-wing drone with a battery life of 12 minutes. Its camera could zoom in and record events on the ground while airborne, and can be used during heavy rainfall and at night as it is equipped with infrared vision.

He assured the drone would not be used to violate anybody’s privacy.

Earlier this month, the New People’s Army admitted to kidnapping four contractors of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) for reportedly conducting aerial surveillance of the NPA’s camps in Compostela Valley.

The contractors, Ken Wong, Chrisandro Favela, Tim Sabino, and Nico Lasaca, as well as their driver Jonas Loredo, were released upon the intervention of Duterte.

The NPA confiscated three drones from the contractors.

The DENR had denied the drones were used for military purposes, saying they were used for a government forest survey.

“The NPA maintains that the DENR/Skyeye’s anti-logging aerial reconnaissance is merely a pretext to intensify imperialist mining plunder and counter-revolutionary intelligence in Southern Mindanao. The motives of Skyeye’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,” the rebel group said in a statement dated June 2.

“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,” it added.

“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.”

“The CPP/NPA hierarchy must not worry about this machine because i am no longer in the armed services,” Villaroman said. “We are not supposed to dip our fingers on purely military matters.”

The drone, he said, is not capable of bringing weapons.

In August last year, Duterte rejected a request from the US government to use the old airport as a launching pad for UAV operations in Mindanao.

Villaroman earlier this year said he was impressed with the capabilities of the Quad Copter Phantom 2 unit, which gave city officials a wider visual perspective of the extent of the damage of the fire that hit barangays 22c and 23c last April 4 and displaced some 3,000 families.

He used the footage and photos from the drone in a presentation to the city council a week after the Isla Verde fire, which wiped out 8.8 hectares of the 12-hectare residential area.

“For example, during a robbery, it would be very easy to spot a car that escaped [from] a crime scene if we had something like that,” Villaroman said in a phone call.

In July last year, police failed to catch two of three SUVs believed to be Monteros that were used by the kidnappers of Manila-based businesswoman Sally Chua despite a city-wide lockdown ordered by Duterte.

Chua was abducted in Manila on July 5, 2013, and was brought to Davao to withdraw P15 million in ransom.

Five alleged kidnappers were shot dead during a rescue operation headed by then city police director Supt. Ronald Dela Rosa. (MindaNews)