MANILA (Reuters) – The president of the Philippines on Friday said he has ordered the military to cancel a $233 million agreement to purchase 16 helicopters from Canada after its government expressed concerns they could be used to fight rebels.
“I want to tell the armed forces to cut the deal, don’t proceed anymore and somehow we will look for another supplier. We respect the stand of Canada,” Rodrigo Duterte said in a televised briefing.
Duterte also directed the military not to buy arms anymore “from Canada or from the United States because there is always a condition attached.”
The Philippines and Canada formally signed the helicopter deal on Tuesday, but the following day, the Canadian government ordered a review.
That was in response to comments to Reuters by Philippine Major-General Restituto Padilla that the helicopters would be used for the internal security operations against communist and Islamist rebels.
Canadian officials said they were concerned about possible human right violations and said they understood the helicopters were intended for non-combat operations.
The Philippine defense minister later clarified that the Bell 412EPI helicopters were mainly for transport, rescue and disaster response.
Duterte, however, said they were to go after Maoist rebels.
“The reason I’m buying helicopters is because I want to finish them off,” he said.
The Philippines hit a hurdle in trying to procure for the police some 26,000 M4 assault rifles from the United States. Duterte eventually canceled the plan after several senators threatened to block the sale over human rights concerns.
But Duterte said on Friday he did not blame the United States and that he remains a staunch supporter of its president, Donald Trump, whom he said was misunderstood.
“He is a good president. He is doing it also for his country. People just don’t understand,” he said.
(Reporting by Manolo Serapio Jr.; Editing by Martin Petty and Toby Chopra)