Philippines to Canada: Helicopters won't be used for attacks

The Philippine defence chief says the military won't use 16 helicopters being bought from Canada to attack insurgents, as feared by Canadian officials who ordered a review of the multimillion-dollar deal.

Federal officials feared aircraft would be used to against insurgents

Philippine soldiers prepare to board a helicopter amid fighting near Marawi City in June 2017. The country's defence chief said the 16 helicopters it plans to buy from Canada will not be used for internal attacks. (Romeo Ranoco/Reuters)

The Philippine defence chief said Thursday that the military won't use 16 helicopters being bought from Canada to attack insurgents, as feared by Canadian officials, who ordered a review of the multimillion-dollar deal.

Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said the Philippine government could buy elsewhere if Canada decides to scuttle the sale of the Bell 412EPIs, which he said would be used to ferry supplies and troops, including those wounded in combat, and respond to disasters.

"They are not attack or close support aircraft," Lorenzana said in a statement. Designated as a "combat utility helicopter," the aircraft is a utility helicopter and "contrary to what some parties mistakenly believe, its mission is to save lives," he said.

The Philippine military has assault helicopters but the new Bell 412EPIs would not be armed, Maj. Gen. Restituto Padilla said.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's government decided to undertake a review of the 12 billion peso ($292 million Cdn) deal, which was announced this week, due to concerns the Philippine military may use the helicopters in counterinsurgency assaults.

While in Manila last November to attend an annual diplomatic summit, Trudeau said he raised concerns about human rights abuses and extrajudicial killings in President Rodrigo Duterte's anti-drug campaign. Duterte said then that he was insulted and angered by Trudeau's remarks.

Philippines Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, shown in this 2017 file photo, said the helicopters will ferry supplies and troops, including those wounded in combat, and respond to disasters. (Erik De Castro/Reuters)

Nearly 4,000 mostly poor drug suspects have been killed in clashes with police, according to police officials, who say the suspects resisted violently. Human rights groups, however, have reported much higher death tolls and accused law enforcers of carrying out extrajudicial killings and of setting up crime scenes to make the victims appear to have fought back.

Duterte, a former city mayor who built a political name with his extra-tough approach to crime, has denied condoning unlawful killings but has openly threatened drug suspects with death and cursed people who criticize his anti-crime methods.