Philippines watch US helicopters after Russian deal scrapped

Manila, Philippines — Philippine officials are considering a US offer to supply heavy helicopters, such as the widely used Chinooks, after Manila scrapped a deal to buy military helicopters from Russia over fears of Western sanctions, the Philippine ambassador to Washington said Monday.

Then-President Rodrigo Duterte approved the cancellation of the signed deal to buy 16 Russian Mi-17 helicopters amid concerns over possible Western sanctions, which would allow rapid bank transfers of income Philippine workers send home from the US and other Western countries. could hinder, Ambassador José Romualdez said.

Romualdez said Washington did not pressure the Philippines to drop the 12.7 billion pesos ($227 million) deal with the Russians.

But after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February, countries seeking to buy Russian equipment could face Western sanctions, he said.

“I think it was very careful especially for President Duterte to approve the cancellation of that contract because it could save us a lot of trouble,” Romualdez told an online press conference hosted by foreign correspondents in Manila.

The US offer to sell Boeing CH-47 Chinooks was already discussed last year by former Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana and his US counterpart, Lloyd Austin, in Washington, even before Duterte was persuaded by key cabinet members to cancel the deal, said Romualdez. .

One of Duterte’s cabinet members, Treasury Secretary Sonny Dominguez, then warned Duterte that Western countries could refuse aid that could help the Philippines deal with and recover from coronavirus outbreaks, two Philippine officials told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity due to a lack of authority to discuss the matter publicly.

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Lorenzana first confirmed the cancellation of the contract to secure the Russian helicopters in an interview with AP last month. After Lorenzana served as chief of defense under Duterte, he was named by new president Ferdinand Marcos Jr. appointed head of a government agency responsible for transforming former military bases into business hubs.

Romualdez said the Philippine government under Duterte has made an initial payment of about $38 million to secure the Russian military transport helicopters and that he has signed Marcos Jr. covered by that deposit.

“We certainly won’t just say goodbye to that money,” Romualdez said. “As far as we’re concerned, it’s still a large amount.”

A Philippine military official has said the helicopter deal would undergo a “termination process” after the Philippine decision to cancel it was made because a contract had already been signed. The Russians can appeal, but there is little room for the Philippine government to reconsider, the official said.

According to the scrapped helicopter purchase agreement, signed in November, the first batch of multi-purpose helicopters would be delivered in about two years from Russia’s Sovtechnoexport. Aside from the 16 helicopters, one unit should have been given to the Philippines for free, defense officials said.

The Russian-made helicopters could have been used for combat, search and rescue and medical evacuations in the Southeast Asian archipelago, which is often ravaged by typhoons and other natural disasters, Philippine officials said.

In March, the Philippines voted ‘yes’ to a UN General Assembly resolution that demanded an immediate halt to Moscow’s attack on Ukraine and the withdrawal of all Russian troops.

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Duterte has expressed concern about the global impact of the Russian invasion but has not personally condemned it. While in office, he maintained close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin, whom he once called his “idol,” and Chinese leader Xi Jinping, while regularly criticizing US security policy.

The Philippines is a treaty ally of Washington, which has imposed heavy sanctions on Moscow to pressure the country to withdraw from Ukraine.

Due to financial constraints, the Philippines has struggled for years to modernize its military, one of the most underfunded in Asia, to face decades of Muslim and Communist insurgency and defend their territories in the disputed South China Sea.

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