By Genalyn Kabiling
SEOUL — The Philippine government is considering the purchase of Bell helicopters from South Korea after a botched aircraft acquisition from Canada.
President Duterte announced the possible helicopter deal with South Korea to enhance the fleet of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) on the first day of his three-day official visit to Seoul.
“Dito pumunta ako, I’m trying to, the day after tomorrow, bili tayo ng mga helicopters para sa (I went here, I’m trying to, the day after tomorrow, to buy helicopters for (military),” the President said in his speech before an assembly of Filipino community at the Grand Hilton Hotel here.
Duterte is scheduled to hold talks with South Korean President Moon Jae-in at the Blue House on Monday on efforts to enhance not only trade and investments but also defense and security cooperation.
He is also set to inspect some defense equipment in a Korean base during his visit to Seoul, according to Philippine Ambassador to South Korea Raul Hernandez.
In his remarks, the President said the country actually purchased helicopters from Canada but cancelled the deal after the foreign nation imposed conditions on the aircraft use.
“Alam mo originally meron na tayo. Um-order na tayo n Bell sa Canada. Sabi nila mag-deliver kami ng Bell helicopters but you cannot use it against your own citizens [You know, we already had them. We ordered Bell helicopters from Canada. They said they will deliver Bell helicopters but ‘you cannot use it against your own citizens’],” he said.
Duterte expressed dismay that Canada wanted to limit country’s use of the helicopters amid the threats coming from terrorists and communist insurgents in the country.
He said Canada only wanted the Philippine military to use the helicopters as “air ambulance” by evacuating wounded and sick personnel. “Magbili ako ng 23 air ambulance? Saan ako maghanap ng patay karga-karga? Mga sundalo, pagbabarilin ko pa [I will buy 23 air ambulances? Where will I find the dead to transport?]
But he bluntly told Canada that the country was facing security threats from some of its own citizens.
“My citizens are joining the New People’s Army, the communists and they are fighting government and killing my soldiers and my policemen and civilians. It’s a dirty war and people are dying,” he said.
He said some Filipino Muslims also joined terror movement and launched a siege in Marawi City last year.
“How stupid can you get? I cannot use it against my own citizens? When they are citizens in my country trying to overthrow my government,” the President told Canada.
Last February, President Duterte ordered the military to cancel a $233 million agreement to purchase 16 helicopters from Canada after getting annoyed by its human rights concerns. He said the government could shop for military aircraft in other countries that do not impose conditions.
The government of Canada has expressed concern about possible human rights violations and insisted the helicopters must be used for non-combat operations. Local military officials earlier claimed that the helicopters would be used for operations against communist and Islamic rebels.