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Helicopters for our modernizing AFP

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The dispute that arose over our planned purchase of helicopters from Canada will not affect our ongoing program of modernizing our Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).

The biggest item of this program was the acquisition of a squadron of South Korean FA jet fighters for the Philippine Air Force (PAF) at a cost of P18.9 billion, followed by the purchase of two new frigates also from South Korea for our Philippine Navy at a cost of P15 billion.

The 16 Bell 412 helicopters from Canada for P12 billion would have been the third biggest item in this long-delayed modernization program of the AFP, which for so long has been depending on hand-me-downs from the United States.

Last February 8, a day after the signing of a $233-million (P12-billion) agreement on the helicopters, the Canadian government, through Trade Minister Philippe Champagne, said it had ordered a review of the deal in view of concerns that the helicopters would be used to fight rebels. He said the understanding was that they would be used for search and rescue operations.

Did the Canadians really expect that the helicopters they were selling for the use of the Philippine Air Force were to be used only for non-military operations like transporting officials, rescuing victims of natural calamities, joining surveillance missions along our borders, and flying above Independence Day parades at the Luneta?

The Department of National Defense (DND) said Tuesday that in view of this announcement from the Canadian government, it has informed the Canadian Commercial Corporation that it is cancelling its order in compliance with an order from President Duterte.

DND spokesman Arsenio Andolong said, “While the combat utility helicopters being purchased are primarily for the purpose of transporting persons and supplies, the department believes that it does not owe the Canadian government any justification for an outright purchase of equipment from a privately owned company.” Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said the Philippines is now considering deals with at least four countries – South Korea, Russia, China, and Turkley.

The Philippines has just been through a five-month battle with ISIS-inspired Maute rebels who seized Marawi City last May and were ousted only after considerable loss of lives on both sides and destruction and loss of properties. The threat continues as there are other groups of rebel forces in Mindanao – the New People’s Army, the Abu Sayyaf, the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, the Maute remnants, to name a few.

Mostly for internal security, rather than a defense against some invading force, the Armed Forces of the Philippines is now building up its strength and capability. President Duterte has announced that the AFP plans to add 20,000 to its ranks. And it is now acquiring planes and helicopters, frigates, weapons and ammunition. If Canada does not want its helicopters used for the Philippines’ security needs, we simply have to look elsewhere.

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