Canada is reviewing a deal to supply helicopters to the Philippine military, following criticism of the Liberals' initial green light of a plan to sell equipment to a government accused of unlawfully killing thousands of its own citizens in a grizzly war on drugs.
The deal for the sale of 16 helicopters, to be produced by Bell Helicopter in Mirabel, Que., is worth more than $233.36 million, and was officially signed on Tuesday. According to Trade Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne, it was struck under the previous government in 2012 with the understanding that the helicopters would be used for search-and-rescue missions.
The review was ordered on Thursday, following comments from senior Philippine military official Restituto Padilla that the helicopters would be used for internal security operations.
This comes as the military prepares for an intensified campaign against Islamist militants in the country’s south and communist rebels in other areas, and as the International Criminal Court has announced a preliminary inquiry into extrajudicial killings committed by the government in its war on drugs.
“When we saw that declaration... we immediately launched a review with the relevant authorities. And we will obviously review the facts and take the right decision,” Champagne told reporters.
'NOT ATTACK AIRCRAFT'
On Thursday, Padilla clarified the helicopters would be used for search and rescue operations — not for the offensive military operations against communist rebels and pro-ISIS extremists.
“Yes, it is for both (search and rescue operations and transporting injured and killed military personnel),” he said on Thursday, according to SunStar, a national newspaper in the Philippines. “We are hit by numerous typhoons annually and the bulk of field operations are for humanitarian assistance and disaster response.”
“In addition, the transport of wounded and killed in action from problematic areas where we have engagements with rebels is one of its use,” he added.
Philippine Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana also weighed in, saying in a statement that the helicopters “are not attack or close support aircraft,” and that they’d be used to transport supplies, wounded soldiers, as well as humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, according to Reuters.
“While they may be used in support of Internal Security Operations ... their role is limited to those that I mentioned,” the defence secretary said.
“Should the Canadian government choose to discontinue their sale of the aircraft to us, then we will procure them from another source,” he added.
'POWER TO DENY PERMIT'
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made international headlines after he raised human rights issues in the Philippines’ war on drugs with President Rodrigo Duterte at an international summit last November. Duterte’s violent crackdown on drug dealers and people who use drugs has left nearly 12,000 people dead, according to Human Rights Watch.
"As I mentioned to President Duterte, we're concerned with human rights, with the extrajudicial killings," Trudeau said at the time. The Prime Minister said Canada has "a reputation for being able to have strong and frank, sometimes firm, discussions around the rule of law and human rights with its partners."
Duterte subsequently lashed out at Trudeau publicly, calling the criticism a “personal official insult.”
“It angers me when you are a foreigner, you do not know what exactly is happening in this country,” Duterte said.
In the House of Commons on Thursday, Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland said she would “conduct an extremely rigorous human rights analysis of any potential export permit application related to this contract."
"I have the power to deny a permit if I feel that it poses a risk to human rights, and I am prepared to do so," she added.