Canada is reviewing a deal to sell 16 Bell helicopters to the Philippine military that would reportedly be used as attack planes against local insurgents, an allegation the Philippine government denied February 8.
Canadian media reported Feb. 7 that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government was reconsidering the sale over fears the aircraft would be used in internal security operations, just hours after both governments announced it in public.
“They must not politicize the acquisition,” said Maj. Gen. Restituto Padilla, the deputy chief of staff for plans and programs of the Philippine armed forces.
“You must understand that these are utility helicopters, not attack helicopters,” Padilla told AFP.
Meanwhile, the Department of Foreign Affairs said it was waiting for an official statement.
According to the Philippine defense department, the deal was signed with trade promotion outfit Canadian Commercial Corp. last December, shortly after Trudeau clashed with President Rodrigo Duterte during a Manila visit over Philippine drug war killings.
The Philippines employs attack helicopters and planes to support ground troops battling militants in Mindanao, as well as against communist guerrillas in other parts of the country.
A Philippine defense department spokesman told AFP its air force would use the Bell 412EPI aircraft, worth $234.8 million, for disaster response and humanitarian missions, but also for “anti-terrorism.”
However, Padilla said this did not mean they would be used as “attack helicopters.”
“Not at all. They are purely for utility purposes—ergo, transport purposes especially during HADR operations,” he said, using a military term for disaster response. “We have separate and dedicated attack helicopters.”
Apart from armed insurgencies, the Philippines is also regularly battered by typhoons.
Bell Helicopter had said the Philippine military would use the aircraft “for a variety of missions such as disaster relief, search and rescue, passenger transport and utility transport.”
Canadian ambassador to Manila John Holmes said the versatility of the aircraft would improve the “search and rescue and disaster relief capabilities” of the Philippines and would be a “real benefit” to its citizens.