As It Happens

Philippines president boasted he threw a man from a helicopter — now Canada may sell him 16 of them

Canada may sell 16 helicopters to the Philippine military, despite accusations of human rights abuses against President Rodrigo Duterte.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, left, talks to Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte in Manila, Philippines. (Mark Cristino/Associated Press)

UPDATE: After this interview aired, the Liberal government announced it has ordered a review of the controversial helicopter deal. 

Story transcript

NDP foreign affairs critic Hélène Laverdière says she's outraged Canada is selling 16 helicopters to country whose president once claimed to have thrown a man to his death from one.

On Tuesday, the Philippines military signed a deal agreeing to buy Canadian-made Bell helicopters at the end of December. Reuters reported the Philippines government spent $233.36 million on the helicopters. In December of 2015, Canada also sold eight Bell helicopters to the Philippines armed forces. 

Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte has been accused of human rights abuses in the pursuit of his war on drugs in the country. And when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau raised the issue with him in November, Duterte said it was "a personal and official insult."

Laverdière thinks that the human rights violations by the Philippines military should outweigh the price tag of 16 helicopters. She spoke with As It Happens host Carol Off about the deal. Here is part of their conversation. 

What is wrong with selling these helicopters to the Philippines?

The Philippines has a humans right record that is abysmal.

The president of the Philippines has said once, seemingly there's been serious reports on that, that he had already thrown somebody out of a helicopter and he was ready to do it again. So I hope it won't be from Canadian helicopters.

We should have a system in place. We should stand up for basic principles including the defence of human rights. And this doesn't fit at all.

Military chaplains sprinkle holy water at eight brand new Bell-412EP helicopters that were procured by the Philippine Air Force from Bell Helicopter Textron. (Bullit Marquez/Associated Press)

OK, but why? Tell us specifically. 

There have been attacks on villages by the Philippines army. The range of issues with respect for human rights is huge in the Philippines.

Normally we're not supposed to export arms equipment if there is a risk that it can be used to commit abuses of human rights. In this case I think there are serious risks.

Laverdiere says that the Canadian government should be more careful with where they export arms. (Graham Hughes/Canadian Press)

We should point out what has been reported is, in fact,that the Philippines military actually told journalists that the helicopters will be used for the military's internal security operations.   

And what does that mean? There's huge questions on that and I don't think that this deal could go ahead like that without proper evaluation, especially to a country where we know there are serious human rights problems.

But we know that last summer, 2017, the Philippines announced … that there would be a procurement spree. That they were going to start buying military equipment in order to fight wars they're fighting, actually on two fronts — one with Islamic extremists and the other with Maoist-led rebels. Is it not legitimate for them to procure equipment and supplies, even from Canada, if they're fighting a war?

If they are fighting against extremists, they have the right to fight against extremists. The problem is that we know that the fight goes well beyond that. With villages, you know, being bombarded with extrajudicial killings and arrests. And it's not a situation where we can feel secure that we won't risk to be complicit or our equipment won't be complicit to human rights abuses.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has been accused of human rights violations in his war against drugs in the country. (Bullit Marquez/Associated Press)

And what if they say it will not be? Just as we have heard from other countries, including Saudi Arabia, that whatever they procure … will not be used in human rights violations. If they make that commitment, is that OK with you?

If they make that commitment and we can follow and we can watch and we can assure that that commitment will be respected, then we can do it. But in this case, we don't have those assurances.

And you know we have our government who says, "Oh you know, we're going to better control our arms exports," and not doing it. And they show themselves that it's so easy to have nice words and do something different.

These 16 helicopters that Canada would sell, are they weaponized?  Do they have weapons on them or with them?

To my knowledge, but we have very little details, I don't think they're weaponized but they can be and they will be used by the military.

You are from Quebec. You know that these are jobs that Quebecers need. This would be going to Mirabel, the construction of these helicopters. What do you say to people in Quebec who are saying, "Well look, let's take a chance on this. We need this work"?

Yes, people do need that work and that's very important but, you know, in the last 10 years or so we've moved away from exporting equipment mainly to NATO allies toward exporting equipment more to the Middle East or countries like the Philippines.

I think we should refocus our export in markets that respect our values and our principles. And also there's always our own army who … is lacking equipment very often.

So maybe if the government would give help in that respect. We shouldn't stop selling helicopters, but we should be very careful where we send them.

With files from the Associated Press. This interview has been edited for length and clarity. For more, listen to our conversation with Hélène Laverdière in the player above.


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