Philippines eye US helicopters after canceling Russian deal

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Manila, Philippines — The Philippine ambassador to Washington said on Monday that Philippine officials are considering a US proposal to provide heavy-duty helicopters such as the widely used Chinook.

Then-President Rodrigo Duterte approved the cancellation of a deal signed to buy 16 Russian Mi-17 helicopters due to concerns over potential Western sanctions that could hinder rapid bank transfers of proceeds to Filipino workers to the US and other Westerners. countries sent home, Ambassador Jose Romualdez said.

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

But after the invasion of Russia Ukraine In February, countries that buy Russian equipment could face Western sanctions, he said.

“I think it was really prudent for President Duterte in particular to approve the cancellation of that contract because it could save us a lot of trouble,” Romualdez told an online news conference hosted by Manila-based foreign correspondents.

Romualdez said a US offer to sell the Boeing CH-47 Chinook was discussed in Washington early last year by former Philippine Defense Secretary Delphine Lorenzana and his US counterpart, Lloyd Austin. ,

One of Duterte’s cabinet members, Finance Secretary Sonny Dominguez, then warned Duterte that Western countries could withhold aid that could help the Philippines cope and recover from the coronavirus outbreak, two Philippine officials lacking authority. told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity. To discuss this issue publicly.

Lorenzana first confirmed the cancellation of Russia’s contract to secure helicopters in an interview with the AP last month. After serving as chief of defense under Duterte, Lorenzana is appointed by new President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. to head a government agency to convert former military bases into commercial centers.

Romualdez said the Philippine government under Duterte made an initial payment of about $38 million to secure Russian military transport helicopters and that he would recommend Marcos Jr. and his top defense and foreign officials ask the Russians to provide other weapons or equipment. Will try to say what will happen. Covered by that downpayment.

“Of course we will not just say goodbye to that money,” said Romualdez. “It’s still a huge amount as far as we’re concerned.”

A Filipino military official has said the helicopter deal will have to go through a “termination process” following the Philippine’s decision to cancel it since a contract was signed. The official said the Russians could appeal but there was little room for the Philippine government to reconsider.

Under the canceled helicopter purchase agreement, which was signed in November, the first batch of multi-role helicopters would have been scheduled for delivery by Russia’s Soveteknoexport in about two years. Defense officials said that apart from the 16 helicopters, one unit should have been given to the Philippines for free.

Philippine officials said the Russian-made helicopters could be used for combat, search and rescue operations and medical evacuation in the Southeast Asian archipelago, which is often hit by typhoons and other natural disasters.

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

Duterte has expressed concern over the global impact of the Russian offensive but has not personally condemned it. While in office, he developed close ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin, whom he once called his “idol”, and Chinese leader Xi Jinping frequently criticized US security policies.

The Philippines, a treaty ally of Washington, has imposed heavy sanctions aimed at pressuring Moscow to withdraw from Ukraine.

Due to financial constraints, dealing with decades-long Muslim and communist insurgents, and defending its territories in the disputed South China Sea, the Philippines has struggled for years to modernize its military, one of the lowest in Asia. is financed.

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