Manila defends helicopter deal

LUNDAMO, Norway -- A group of Norwegian Bell 412SP's travel to the port of Orkanger to insert a team of Marines from 1st Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment. The leathernecks are participating in DV (distinguished visitors) Day March 10 during Battle Griffin, the second phase of NATO exercise Strong Resolve '02. (USMC photo by Cpl. Paula M. Fitzgerald)

The Philippine defence minister Delfin Lorenzana has claimed that 16 helicopters being bought from Canada will not be used to attack insurgents after activists condemned the deal.

Lorenzana said Manila would buy helicopters elsewhere if the December deal with the Canadian Commercial Corp for the unarmed Bell 412EPIs was scrapped. The choppers, designed by a US company but manufactured in Canada, would be used to move supplies, patients and troops and to respond to disasters, he said.

“They are not attack or close-support aircraft,” the major general announced. “Contrary to what some parties mistakenly believe, its mission is to save lives.”

Canada is the 15th largest weapons exporter in the world, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, and analysts say Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government is struggling to put its progressive rhetoric ahead of commercial interests.

President Rodrigo Duterte says he once threw a man accused of murder out of a helicopter. “I have done this before; why would I not do it again?” the 72-year-old former Davao mayor reportedly asked.

Canada has called a review into the 12-billion peso (US$235-million) contract amid concerns that the hardware could be used in counterinsurgency assaults. The Canadian government said it was confident the helicopters would be used for “disaster relief, search and rescue, passenger transport and utility transport”.

Cesar Jaramillio of the Canadian Project Ploughshares disarmament group said: “It is increasingly hard to reconcile the government’s foreign-policy rhetoric with its practice. Our initial reaction is one of wonder. Why is Canada selling weapons to a known human-rights violator?”

Trudeau said he raised concerns about human rights and extrajudicial killings about Duterte’s anti-drug campaign during his visit to Manila last November. Duterte, who has likened himself to Hitler and bragged that he stabbed someone to death, said at the time that he was angered by Trudeau’s “personal and official insult”.

The police claim about 4,000 suspected drug dealers and users have been killed in clashes with the authorities since Duterte came to office. It is claimed suspects violently resisted arrest.

Activists, however, say the death toll is far higher and say the authorities set up crime scenes to make the victims appear to have fought back.

Duterte denies condoning unlawful killings but has openly threatened drug suspects with death and cursed people, including former US president Barack Obama, who criticise his methods.

The Philippines is also battling Isis-allied jihadists and Maoist rebels in a decades-long insurgency.


The Bell 412EPI in Norway. Picture credit: Wikimedia