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Philippines president says he wants to axe $233M deal to buy Canadian helicopters

Phillippines President Rodrigo Duterte says he wants to cancel the $233-million deal to buy 16 Helicopters from Canada, just days after Ottawa ordered a review of the sale.

“So this is my reaction. I want to tell the armed forces to cut the deal … and somehow we will look for another supplier. We respect the stand of Canada,” he said during a media briefing Friday morning.

At one point during the briefing, Duterte asks someone in audience how many helicopters his country is buying from Canada.

“So from here on now, I am directing the armed forces of the Philippines, since most of the guns, bullets and whatever, weapons of war … invariably to be used against the rebels and the terrorists, do not buy any more from Canada. Or from the United States, because there is always a condition attached,” he said.

The Liberal government had defended the deal, which is being facilitated by the Canadian Commercial Corp., arguing the Montreal-built Bell helicopters would be used during search-and-rescue missions and disaster relief.

But International Trade Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne announced Wednesday he had ordered a review of the deal, which was finalized in December, after a senior member of the Philippines military said the aircraft would also be used in “internal security operations.”

“The president’s troubling comments only underscore the confusion and contradictions that have emerged recently on the intended end use of the helicopters,” said a spokesperson for Champagne on Friday. 

“That is precisely why the minister ordered a review and that process will continue.”

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, left, talks to Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte before the opening ceremony of the 31st Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit in Manila on Nov. 13. Trudeau Raised Concerns about extrajudicial killings during his visit. (Mark Cristino/Associated Press)

Philippine Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana tried to reassure officials that the helicopters wouldn’t be used to attack rebels.

“Contrary to what some parties mistakenly believe, its mission is to save lives,” he said of the aircraft.

But on Friday, Duterte seemed to contradict his minister, saying if the helicopters can’t be used against terrorists, “then prepare for the eventual collapse of this country.”

News of the sale caused some in Canada to raise concerns over Duterte’s human rights record. 

Amnesty International Canada asked whether a human rights assessment was conducted for the Philippines deal, and if any provisions are in place to ensure the helicopters are used properly.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau raised concerns about extrajudicial killings while visiting the country last fall.

Canada sold eight Bell helicopters to the armed forces of the Philippines in 2015.

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