MANILA, Philippines – President Rodrigo Duterte said on Friday he has ordered the military to cancel a $233 million agreement to purchase 16 helicopters from Canada, whose government expressed concerns they could be used to fight rebels.
“I want to tell the armed forces to cut the deal, don’t proceed anymore and somehow we will look for another supplier. We respect the stand of Canada,” Duterte said in a televised briefing.
Duterte also directed the military not to buy arms anymore “from Canada or from the United States because there is always a condition attached.”
The Philippines and Canada formally signed the helicopter deal on Tuesday. The following day, the Canadian government ordered a review, in response to comments to Reuters by Philippine Major-General Restituto Padilla that the helicopters would be used for operations against communist and Islamist rebels.
Canadian officials said they were concerned about possible human rights violations and said they had understood the helicopters were intended for non-combat operations.
The Philippine defense minister later clarified that the Bell 412EPI helicopters were mainly for transport, rescue and disaster response.
Duterte, however, said they were to go after Maoist rebels. “The reason I‘m buying helicopters is because I want to finish them off,” he said.
In Ottawa, Canadian Trade Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne said in a statement that Duterte’s “troubling comments only underscore the confusion and contradictions that have emerged recently on the intended end use of the helicopters”.
The Philippines hit a hurdle in trying to procure for the police some 26,000 M4 assault rifles from the United States. Duterte eventually canceled the plan after several senators threatened to block the sale over human rights concerns.
But Duterte said on Friday he did not blame the United States and that he remains a staunch supporter of its president, Donald Trump, whom he said was misunderstood.
“He is a good president. He is doing it also for his country. People just don’t understand,” he said.