CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews / 11 June) — Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana on Sunday said the three US Special Forces servicemen in Campo Ranao in Marawi City on Friday were coordinating communications link between the P3 Orion spy plane and the Philippine military fighting the Maute Group on the ground.
“They just stayed inside the camp and coordinated the technical communications. They did not join the fighting,” Lorenzana told MindaNews after a press briefing in Camp Evangelista.
He told the press briefing that Americans sent their own personnel to receive the information from the plane and relay it to us.”
The plane is capable of providing visual images and other sensor data that would assist forces on the ground.
According to globalsecurity.org, the P-3s were active in Afghanistan in late 2001, “where the aircraft used Ku-band packet mux data links to provide video and other sensor data to surface forces. The imagery was very well received by ground forces there, and demand for this type of information is growing as users become aware of its value.”
President Rodrigo Duterte later told reporters that he was not aware that the US government sent a P3 Orion spy plane to help the Philippine military end the siege in Marawi City.
“I was not aware of that until (it) arrived,” he told reporters after visiting 84 injured soldiers at the Camp Evangelista Station Hospital. He added that when he proclaimed Martial Law, he left the tactical decision-making to the Defense Department. Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana is the Martial Law administrator while Armed Forces Chief of Staff Gen. Eduardo Ano is the implementor.
Duterte also acknowledged that his military officers are basically pro-American, having been trained by the US. “That is why itong mga Philippine Army natin, most of them or all of them, mag-schooling ito sa America. So ito talaga ang sentimento nito, pro-American, pro-American talaga ang mga sundalo natin, that I cannot deny.”
Duterte is known for his anti-American sentiments although he repeatedly clarifies his quarrel was with former US President Barrack Obama and the State Department then and refers to US President Donald Trump as his friend.
Asked how US assistance would impact on his independent foreign policy stand, Duterte said the country is at war “and we are not that powerful. Maybe we do not have the technical expertise to do it.”
Journalists covering the fighting in Marawi City took pictures and videos of the turbo-propped P3 Orion plane and the American servicemen last Friday.
A US embassy official later confirmed the presence of the spy plane and US special forces personnel.
He told Reuters news agency the deployment was made upon “request from the Philippine government.”
Lorenzana told MindaNews that P3 Orion flights in the country fall under the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) signed by the Philippine and US governments.
Given the difficulty of dislodging the Maute Group in Marawi City, Lorenzana said they welcomed any help from the American government.
He told MindaNews the P3 Orion plane flew from Guam to Marawi City but added that even without Marawi, the P3Orion has been helping the Philippines monitoring what is happening. “Kahit wala pa itong Marawi City, lumilipad na iyan. South China Sea, West Philippines Sea, Sulu Sea, Mindanao,” he said.
He said a small American unit in Zamboanga City is controlling the P3 Orion flights over the Philippines. (Froilan Gallardo / MindaNews)