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Manila cancels Canada Bell helicopter deal

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte gestures as he speaks during a press conference in Davao City on Thursday. (AFP)
DAVAO: Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte on Friday abruptly canceled a $235 million contract to buy 16 helicopters from Canada after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government ordered a review over human rights concerns.
“I want to tell the armed forces to cut the deal. Do not proceed anymore, and somehow we will look for another supplier,” he said of the deal for 16 Bell 412EPI utility helicopters announced by the two governments this week.
Ottawa said Thursday that the deal was under review due to concerns over the human rights record of Duterte, the subject of a complaint in the International Criminal Court (ICC) over the alleged extra-judicial killings of thousands of Filipino drug suspects.
Bell Helicopter said in an announcement of the deal that the aircraft were intended “for a variety of missions such as disaster relief, search and rescue, passenger transport and utility transport.”
However, Manila said they would also be used for “anti-terrorism” operations, including to evacuate soldiers wounded fighting insurgents.
Philippine troops are battling militants in the Muslim south and communist guerrillas in other parts of the mainly Catholic Asian nation.
Duterte said Friday he respected Canada’s stand but added it was unavoidable that the Philippine air force would use the choppers “against the rebels and terrorists.”
“Do not buy anymore from Canada and the US because there is always a condition attached,” he said, adding that he was referring to defense material.
“If I cannot use the gunship, the helicopter, then I might as well surrender this government to them,” he said, referring to the rebels.
“The reason I’m buying helicopters is because I want to finish them off,” Duterte added.
Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland said Thursday that an “extremely rigorous human rights review” would be undertaken before any export permit was issued over the helicopter contract, facilitated by the Canadian Commercial Corp.
“The prime minister and I have been very clear about the Duterte regime’s human rights abuses and the extra-judicial killings,” she told Parliament.
“I have the authority to deny a permit if I feel that it poses a risk to human rights, and I am prepared to do so,” Freeland added.
Trudeau said in November he had called out Duterte over “human rights, the rule of law, and specifically extra-judicial killings.”
Duterte, who has overseen a crackdown that has left nearly 4,000 drug suspects dead at the hands of the police, later described Trudeau’s comments as “a personal and official insult.”
The Philippine government says police have only shot suspects in self-defense and rejects human rights monitors’ description of the crackdown as a crime against humanity.