MANILA - Malacañang on Thursday said the Philippines may look for other sources to buy choppers after the Canadian government ordered a review of the $233-million agreement for the country's procurement of 16 helicopters.
Ottawa had raised concerns the choppers would be used to fight rebels after Maj. Gen. Restituto Padilla, chief of plans at the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), said the helicopters would be used for internal security operations apart from deployment in search-and-rescue and disaster relief operations.
Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque asserted that the 16 Bell helicopters would be used to transport personnel and relief supplies during calamities as well as to ferry wounded soldiers.
He, however, said if Canada eventually cancels the agreement, “we may consider the prospect of procuring them from other sources.”
Canada's International Trade Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne said the deal formally signed on Tuesday had been struck in 2012 on the understanding the helicopters would be used for search-and-rescue missions.
"When we saw that declaration ... we immediately launched a review with the relevant authorities. And we will obviously review the facts and take the right decision," Champagne told reporters, without giving more details.
The Bell 412EPI helicopters were due be delivered early next year as the Philippine military prepares to step up operations against Islamist and communist rebels.
Asked later whether he was concerned the helicopters might be used against Filipino citizens, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau replied: "Absolutely."
Canada has very clear regulations about to whom it can sell weapons and how they can be used, he said during a question and answer event at the University of Chicago.
"We are going to make sure before this deal or any other deal goes through that we are abiding by the rules ... that Canadian governments have to follow," he said.
Reacting to the review of the chopper purchase agreement, Padilla said Canada “must not politicize the acquisition.”
"You must understand that these are utility helicopters, not attack helicopters," Padilla told Agence France-Presse. -- with Reuters, AFP