PH to find new proponent for heavy-lift helicopter project

Bianca Dava, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Aug 12 2022 06:36 PM

MANILA — The Philippines is going back to the drawing board in procuring heavy-lift helicopters.

This, after the previous administration decided to terminate a contract with a Russian company for the purchase of 16 units of Mi-17 helicopters for the Philippine Air Force, Department of National Defense spokesperson Arsenio Andolong said on Friday.

Andolong said the DND has reconstituted a Contract Termination and Review Committee (CTRC) to formalize the withdrawal from the military procurement contract worth P12.7 billion pesos.

"The previous admin began the process of termination. Sec. Lorenzana issued a memo or letter to the Russian side expressing the intent of the PH gov't to cancel the project. In that sense, the termination was already expressed, although there are procedures that need to be followed to formalize this because there was a contract signed. There must be a process to have closure on this particular contract," the defense official told reporters at Camp Aguinaldo.

The deal was signed under the administration of former president Rodrigo Duterte in November 2021.

Even then, Andolong noted, there were other proponents for the project, but Russia’s Mi-17 was chosen because of its relatively spacious cabin and more affordable cost.

The DND spokesperson said transport helicopters are a vital component of the AFP, with the Philippines being an archipelagic nation. 

During the COVID-19 pandemic, helicopters were often used in transporting people, equipment, and even vaccines.

Alluding to the potential consequences of the Russian invasion of Ukraine in late February, Andolong noted that the project was scrapped by the previous administration because of "changes in priorities necessitated by global political developments."

Under the US Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), countries with major deals with Russia’s defense industry would be sanctioned economically.

In January this year, the Philippines had made an initial payment of P1.9 billion for the project.

Asked if the DND is confident it could recoup the payment already made to Russia, Andolong answered: "’Yan ang hindi ko pa masagot sa ngayon. Ngayon pa lang umuupo mga opisyal ng DND. But sinimulan na ni OIC Faustino and CTRC."

(I can't answer that now. New DND officials have just started with their work. But it was already started by OIC Faustino and CTRC.)

Asked again—hypothetically—what the country can do in case it does not get the money back from Russia, Andolong said: "Mahirap sagutin ‘yan. Hindi rin ako familiar sa process if that should happen. ‘Yung DND naman, lalo ang CTRC, will exercise due diligence and will do everything that it can to at least come up with a solution na hindi tayo agrabyado."

(That is difficult to answer. I am also not familiar with the process if that should happen. As for the DND, especially the CTRC, it will exercise due diligence and will do everything that it can to at least come up with a solution to avoid a situation where we're at the losing end.)

The DND is preparing to initiate a diplomatic dialogue with the Russian side to resolve matters arising from the project’s cancellation, including the issue with the down payment.

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