Duterte cancels helicopter deal with Canada's Bell
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte gestures as he speaks during a press conference in Davao City, in the southern island of Mindanao on February 9, 2018. AFP
DAVAO—President Duterte on Friday ordered the Department of National Defense to cancel a $233-million (P12-billion) contract to buy 16 helicopters from Canada after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government ordered a review over human rights concerns.
“I want to tell the Armed Forces to cut the deal. Do not proceed anymore, and somehow we will look for another supplier,” he said of the deal for 16 Bell-412EPI utility helicopters announced by the two governments this week.
Mr. Duterte had said during his visits to military camps last year that Russia and China could supply the Philippines with utility and armed helicopters.
Russia, for one, has offered such workhorses as the Mil Mi-24 Hind and the larger Mil Mi-17 Hip helicoters which can be configured for search and rescue, or combat utility roles.
On Thursday, Canadian Trade Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne said that the helicopter deal with Manila—formally signed on Tuesday—was struck in 2012 on the understanding that the aircraft would be used for search-and-rescue missions.
But Maj. Gen. Restituto Padilla, the deputy chief of staff for plans and programs of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, told Reuters that the Bell-412EPI helicopters would “be used for the military’s internal security operations.”
“They must not politicize the acquisition,” said Padilla. “They are purely for ulitility purposes, ergo, transport purposes especially during HADR (high availability disaster recovery) operations,” using a military term for disaster response.
No to ‘killing other Filipinos’
“We have separate and dedicated attack helicopters,” he added.
The Canadian government on Friday said it would not allow Bell to sell the helicopters to Manila if these were to be used by soldiers “to kill other Filipinos.”
Trudeau’s government feared that the helicopters would be used in security operations against communist rebels and Moro terrorists.
As well as in the bloody war on drugs, the military and the Philippine National Police have been saddled with allegations of human rights abuses in its counterinsurgency campaign.
“If they don’t want to sell, well, we may consider the prospect of procuring them from other sources,” presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said on Thursday.
The Philippine Air Force (PAF) operates helicopters procured mainly from the United States, including dozens of UH-IH Hueys and UH-1Ds. It has several Poland-made Sokol combat utility helicopters, as well as eight Canadian-built Bell-412s, lower variants of the 16 aircraft the PAF thought it would be able to acquire until the Canadian government ordered the review. —REPORTS FROM AFP