Philippines says helicopters from Canada ‘not for attack’

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 08 February, 2018, 9:40pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 08 February, 2018, 9:40pm

The Philippine military on Thursday denied it planned to use 16 Bell helicopters bought from Canada as attack aircraft against local insurgents, following reports Ottawa was reviewing the deal.

Canadian media reported overnight on Wednesday 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 had announced it in public.

“They must not politicise the acquisition,” said Major-General Restituto Padilla, deputy chief of staff for plans and programmes of the Philippine armed forces, on Thursday. “You must understand that these are utility helicopters, not attack helicopters.”

According to the Philippine defence department, the deal was signed with trade promotion outfit Canadian Commercial Corp last December.

The Philippines employs attack helicopters and planes to support ground troops battling militants in the Muslim south, as well as against communist guerillas in other parts of the mainly Catholic Asian nation.

A Philippine defence department spokesman said on Wednesday its air force would use the Bell 412EPI aircraft, worth US$234.8 million, for disaster response and humanitarian missions, but also for “anti-terrorism”.

However, Padilla said on Thursday 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 will 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 on Wednesday 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.