MANILA, Philippines (AP) — The Philippine defense 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.
Defense 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.
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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government decided to undertake a review of the 12 billion peso ($235 million) deal, which was announced this week, due to concerns the Philippine military may use the helicopters in counterinsurgency assaults, according to news reports.
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.
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.