14 mai 2018 | Local, Aérospatial

Helicopter firm tries to revive cancelled Canadian deal with the Philippines

David Pugliese

Just months after a contract to sell military helicopters to the Philippines was cancelled, a Canadian firm is hoping it can revive the controversial deal.

The Liberal government ordered a review of the original contract involving Bell Helicopter Canada after human rights concerns were raised in February about the aircraft being used on the front lines of the country’s various conflicts.

But that review angered Rodrigo Duterte, the president of the Philippines, who cancelled the $234-million deal for 16 Bell 412 helicopters to be built in Mirabel, Que.

Bell says it is now back in discussions with the Philippines as a potential client for the same helicopters. Patrick Moulay, a Bell senior vice-president, told the aviation publication Flight Global that he can’t get into specifics because the discussions are commercially sensitive. “We are still discussing to see how we can address the missions and operational needs of our customers,” he explained. “We are talking to them on a daily basis but you should wait for a few more weeks before we go into more details.”

In February, when the original deal became public, human rights advocates expressed disbelief that Canada was selling the aircraft to the Philippines considering the country’s poor human rights record and its controversial leader Duterte.

The international criminal court has launched an initial inquiry into allegations of crimes against humanity committed by Duterte. The allegations relate to extrajudicial executions committed during the president’s war on drugs, which has killed thousands. Duterte, who once boasted about throwing a man to his death from a helicopter, has also warned government officials they would face the same fate if he learned they were involved in corruption.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also raised concerns about extrajudicial killings while visiting the country in November, specifically those related to Duterte’s violent crackdown on illegal drugs.

The Canadian Commercial Corporation, a federal government agency, brokered the original February deal to supply the 16 Bell 412 helicopters to the Philippines. But the corporation noted in an email Monday that the organization is not supporting Bell’s latest efforts in the Philippines.

Bell Helicopter did not respond to a request for comment.

Some arms control advocates are worried that Bell might do an end-run around Canadian regulations by shipping portions of the helicopters to its U.S. facilities for assembly and eventual sale to the Philippines. “Canada’s arms control policies are so weak that there are various ways to get these helicopters to Duterte,” said Steve Staples, vice president of the Rideau Institute, an Ottawa think tank. “Shipping semi-completed aircraft from Mirabel into the U.S. could be one way.”

The Liberal government said in February it was unaware the Bell helicopters were going to be used for military operations in the Philippines. It stated the original purpose of the aircraft was for search and rescue and disaster relief. The Liberals blamed the previous Conservative government for initiating the deal.

But the Philippine government never hid its intention to use the Canadian-built helicopters in military operations, even going as far as displaying the first batch of those choppers armed with machine guns during an official ceremony in 2015 attended by Canada’s ambassador.

Philippines Brigadier-General Restituto Padilla, military chief of plans, also told journalists in Manila that the aircraft “will be used for the military’s internal security operations.”

The Philippine military is keen to boost its capabilities as it fights Communist insurgents and Islamic extremists. It says it would use the Canadian helicopters to transport and supply troops and ferry wounded soldiers out of danger. Other uses would be for disaster relief.

Last summer, the Philippine air force used its older utility helicopters during intense fighting in the city of Marawi, a predominantly Muslim city.


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