US gives Philippine air force first drones

US Ambassador to the Philippines Sung Kim, third from left, and Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, third from right, are briefed on the features of the ScanEagle Unmanned Aerial Vehicles during its turnover Tuesday at Villamor Air Base in suburban Pasay city southeast of Manila. (AP)
Updated 13 March 2018
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US gives Philippine air force first drones

MANILA: The US gave the Philippine air force its first surveillance drone system on Tuesday, as the two nations step up cooperation in the battle against jihadist militants.
Washington has been boosting its backing for Philippine counter-terror efforts since supporters of the Daesh group seized parts of the southern city of Marawi last year, sparking a deadly five-month battle.
The unmanned aerial vehicle system, which includes six drones and is worth $13.2 million (€10.7 million), is the latest US military assistance to Philippine troops.
"Assets like the ScanEagle will significantly improve the (Philippine military's) ability to detect terrorist activities, piracy activities, territory encroachment," US Ambassador to Manila Sung Kim told reporters, referring to the drones.
Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said the system, equipped with cameras and aircraft that can fly for 24 hours, would support operations against militants in the south.
The southern region of Mindanao is home to several pro-Daesh groups, including those who attacked Marawi in May last year in fighting that claimed more than 1,100 lives and reduced large parts of the city to rubble.
These new drones are to be used for reconnaissance missions in defense, humanitarian assistance and disaster response, Lorenzana said.
"With a number of security issues confronting our country today, there is a need to upgrade our nation's armed forces," he added.
President Rodrigo Duterte had sought to loosen the Philippines' 70-year alliance with the US in favor of closer ties with China and Russia.
His anger was partly driven by American criticism of his drug war, which has seen police kill thousands of people and prompted an International Criminal Court preliminary examination.
Although relations have improved under US President Donald Trump, who has praised Duterte for his drug war, the Philippine leader has increasingly turned to Beijing and Moscow to boost one of Asia's weakest armed forces.
Duterte last month cancelled a deal to buy helicopters from Canada after Ottawa ordered a review over human rights concerns.
"Do not buy anymore from Canada and the US because there is always a condition attached," Duterte said at the time.
A US embassy spokeswoman said Washington "is committed to the rule of law and respect for human rights, and we urge other governments to do the same."
The surveillance system is aimed at bolstering counter-terrorism operations and disaster relief, she added.


Ex US senators warn of ‘constitutional crisis’ under Trump

Updated 59 min 5 sec ago
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Ex US senators warn of ‘constitutional crisis’ under Trump

  • Special counsel Robert Mueller probes whether Trump’s campaign colluded with Russia to tilt the 2016 election in his favor, and a soon-to-be Democrat-led House starts launching related investigations
  • Trump was directly implicated in ordering payments to alleged ex-lovers — which prosecutors believe sought to influence the outcome of the election

WASHINGTON: Forty-four former US Senators from both major US parties warned Monday of threats to US democracy under President Donald Trump, and a “constitutional crisis” for America.
They said the convergence of events — as special counsel Robert Mueller probes whether Trump’s campaign colluded with Russia to tilt the 2016 election in his favor, and a soon-to-be Democrat-led House starts launching related investigations — made for highly precarious political waters.
The 44 include Democrats such as Bill Bradley and John Kerry and Republicans such as Ben Nighthorse Campbell and Richard Lugar, and they paint the situation ominously as a constitutional crisis.
“It is our shared view that we are entering a dangerous period, and we feel an obligation to speak up about serious challenges to the rule of law, the Constitution, our governing institutions and our national security,” the ex-lawmakers wrote in a Washington Post opinion piece Monday.
“We are at an inflection point in which the foundational principles of our democracy and our national security interests are at stake, and the rule of law and the ability of our institutions to function freely and independently must be upheld,” they wrote.
And “at other critical moments in our history, when constitutional crises have threatened our foundations, it has been the Senate that has stood in defense of our democracy. Today is once again such a time,” the group stressed.
They urged current and future members of the US Senate to make sure that “partisanship or self-interest not replace national interest.” Bipartisan cooperation has plunged with Trump in power.
How lawmakers in both houses of Congress handle the crisis will be key to how the nation handles Trump’s being its first sitting president implicated in a felony.
Referred to as “Individual-1,” Trump was directly implicated in ordering payments to alleged ex-lovers — which prosecutors believe sought to influence the outcome of the election.