Fil-Can chopper deal ends in turbulence

After a week of slamming Canada with wild remarks for its review of combat helicopter sales to the Philippines, President Rodrigo Duterte appears to be wanting to make peace with Ottawa.

“I would assure the Canadian people — we are friends, we do not hate you, we love Canadians because there are a lot of Filipinos there,” Duterte said during a business forum in Davao City.

The President recently ordered the military to terminate the procurement of 16 Bell helicopters from Canada after its government ordered a review into the contract over human rights concerns, local media reported.

Duterte told the military to stop buying defense equipment from Canada and United States due to the conditions imposed on the use of the aircraft.

“We respect the policy of the Canadian people, well and good. Do not buy anything that has something to do with arms,” Duterte said.

“But if you need cosmetics, you want to be beautiful at beauty products, okay, you can buy them,” he added.

Duterte said he opposes any condition that would restrict the use of helicopters in combating terrorists and communist rebels in the country.

He said using the helicopters for disaster relief was a “crazy proposition.”

“The only use or the only utility, which is really inutility already, can use only for evacuation, nandiyan sa newspapers [it’s in the newspapers], and assistance during disasters,” he said.

“I might just order the military to go there in front, use the slingshot and die there so that I can use the helicopter for which it was bought,” he added.

He said the government was shopping for helicopters precisely to be used to “finish” off violent extremists and insurgents threatening peace and order in the country.

“I hope that we will never be called upon to use arms in their defense or for them. You will never get it for as long as I am president,” Duterte said, without mentioning Canada or the United States.

Manila has earlier forged a $233-million deal to buy combat utility helicopters from Canadian Commercial Corp. A military official admitted that the helicopters would be used for internal security operations aside from disaster relief and search-and-rescue missions.

Upon learning the aircraft may be used against Filipino citizens, the Canadian government has ordered a review into the helicopter contract.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the review of the helicopter deal would continue despite Duterte’s latest remark to scrap the purchase.

Trudeau said Canada was committed to ensure any military equipment sold is “used for the right things and not the wrong things.”

Meanwhile, the Philippines is looking to other countries that can supply helicopters similar to Bell, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said.

Lorenzana said that Russia, China, South Korea, Turkey and India could be the new sources for helicopters with similar capabilities of the Bell 412 EPI helicopters.

The Filipino Post reported last November that a human rights group based in Canada had asked that country’s Foreign Affairs ministry to inquire if helicopters sold to the Philippine military are being used in aerial strikes that have alleged targeted civilian communities.

Bern Jagunos of the International Coalition on Human Rights in the Philippines wrote to Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs Chrystia Freeland following reports that air strikes during operations against communist rebels had razed a forest and destroyed farms tilled by indigenous people in the town of Malibcong, Abra.

The Malibcong bombings and other incidents reported in Compostela Valley and Maguindanao provinces followed President Rodrigo Duterte’s order to the military early this month to “go ahead, flatten the hills” by launching air strikes against the New People’s Army and “If there’s collateral damage, pasensiya (too bad).”

Jagunos reminded Freeland that they had raised these concerns as early as 2014, when the Canadian government announced the sale of eight Bell 412EP choppers to the Philippines, five of which have been deployed as combat utility helicopters.

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