Manila Times-Feb 9

It is annoying and unfriendly that the Canadian government has introduced from out of the blue extraneous matters into an agreement, that was signed back in 2014, for Canada to sell helicopters to the Philippines.

With the helicopters due for delivery next year, the Canadian government has suddenly ordered a review of the agreement on the grounds that the helicopters may be used against rebels in the Philippines, without citing any basis for doing so.

This abrupt action invites a Philippine response that Canada should first repatriate the tons of garbage it has illegally docked in Philippine ports, a promise of repatriation which to this day has not been redeemed.

An unfriendly spat was virtually guaranteed by the way the Canadian trade minister butted into the discussion,

Trade Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne said that the deal had been struck in 2012 on the understanding that the helicopters would be used for search-and-rescue missions by the military.

The minister declared: “We have launched a review with the relevant authorities. And we will obviously review the facts and take the right decision”

Under the agreement, the Bell 412EPI helicopters were due to be delivered early next year as the Armed Forces prepares to step up operations against Islamist and communist rebels.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also chimed in with the remark that he was concerned that the helicopters might be used against Filipino citizens. Canada has very clear regulations about to whom it can sell weapons and how they can be used, he said.

The AFP clarified Thursday that the 16 helicopters will not be used to attack communist rebels but to transport wounded and killed soldiers.

Maj. Gen. Restituto Padilla, AFP deputy chief of staff for plans, said the aircraft will be used for both search and rescue operations and transporting injured and slain military personnel.

He said: “We are hit by numerous typhoons annually and the bulk of field operations are for humanitarian assistance and disaster response (HADR),”

Padilla categorically declared that the aircraft will not be used to attack communist rebels.

“We are not buying an offensive aircraft. You must understand that these are utility helicopters, not attack helicopters,” he said.

From a distance and lacking direct knowledge of the field situation, we do not understand how rescue helicopters can commit human rights violations.

We wonder why Canada would be so concerned about the welfare of rebels during our military’s internal security operations.

We can understand that Canada has its own rules regarding its weapons deals. In 2016, its Liberal government was criticized for deciding to honor a contract to sell light armored vehicles to Saudi Arabia, despite human rights concerns. Like the helicopter contract, the deal had been arranged by Canada’s former Conservative administration.

In our own agreement, the Philippine government should take the time to tell Canada the facts about the local communist insurgency that has been going on continuously in our archipelago for the past 48 years. Canadian citizens may not care about our wanting to end the insurgency, but we Filipinos surely do.

Filipinos also want the Canadian garbage to be pulled out promptly from our shores.

We should not wait for Justin Trudeau to visit us again before badgering Canada. It should be on the table every time our governments meet.

(First published in Manila Times –