MANILA, Philippines — (UPDATE – 12:12 p.m.) The Armed Forces of the Philippines said the Bell 412EPI helicopters supposed to be purchased from Canada are “not an offensive platform and not armed as such.”
The statement by Major General Restituto Padilla, AFP deputy chief for plans, was made following Canada’s announcement it would review the P12 billion ($233.36 million) contract for the helicopters over concerns the aircraft would be used in combat.
Reuters earlier quoted Padilla as saying “The helicopters will be used for the military’s internal security operations,” implying they might be used for counterinsurgency operations.
“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,” Canada Trade Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne said, reacting to this.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, asked later whether he was concerned the helicopters might be used against Filipino citizens, replied “Absolutely.”
“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.
But Padilla said Bell Helicopter and the Canadian Commercial Corporation are aware the military will be using the aircraft as a “combat utility helicopter.”
“The AFP deal for the acquisition of the Canadian Bell 412 as a combat utility helicopter is a very transparent one. From the very onset, the contract has specified that we are acquiring a combat utility helicopter,” he said.
“Its intended use as combat utility helicopter is for the transport of troops, especially combat casualties and for troop sustainment. It is not an offensive platform and not armed as such. We have dedicated attack helicopters as offensive platforms for such operations,” he explained.
Since the Philippines lies within the Pacific Rim of Fire, Padilla said the nation’s disaster response plan had tasked the AFP with taking the lead in humanitarian assistance and disaster response, “hence, the CUH will be employed for numerous lifesaving tasks as well.”
“The Canadians were among those who helped us following the wrath of super typhoon Yolanda and employed similar helicopters. We are confident that they are fully aware of the utilization of the CUH. Having said that, we hope that this deal not be politicized,” Padilla said.
The aircraft are scheduled for delivery from the first quarter of 2019 to the second quarter of 2020.
Meanwhile, the Philippine Army will be recruiting an additional 8,000 troopers this year, 4,400 more than the regular annual 3,600 quota to replace slain, dismissed and retired personnel.
Army spokesperson Lieutenant Colonel Louie Villanueva explained that “the higher quota is also due to the ongoing activation of 10 additional Army infantry battalions which aims to further strengthen the PA’s capability, to be more responsive in addressing the various threats, particularly terrorism, that beset the country.”
In 2017, Villanueva said the Army filled its 2017 recruitment quota of about 350 new officers and 13,000 new enlisted personnel, including 1,000 slots allotted to indigenous peoples.