President Rodrigo Duterte

Government to review sale of military hardware

 Just one day after signing a $233 million agreement to sell 16 helicopters to the Philippines, the Canadian government on Wednesday (February 7)ordered a review of the deal amid concerns the aircraft could be used to fight rebels, Reuters reported.
Trade Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne said that the deal – formally signed on Tuesday – had been struck in 2012 on the understanding the helicopters would be used for search-and-rescue missions.

Philippine Major-General Restituto Padilla, military chief of plans, told Reuters on Tuesday the helicopters would be used for the military’s internal security operations, adding they could also be deployed in search-and-rescue and disaster relief operations.

“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, without giving more details.

 The Bell 412EPI helicopters were due be delivered early next year as the Philippine military prepares to step up operations against Islamist and communist rebels.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, asked later whether he was concerned the helicopters might be used against Filipino citizens, replied “Absolutely.”

Canada has very clear regulations about to whom it can sell weapons and how they can be used, he said during a question and answer event at the University of Chicago.

“We are going to make sure before this deal or any other deal goes through that we are abiding by the rules … that Canadian governments have to follow,” he said.

In November, Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte publicly criticized Trudeau at a regional summit in Manila for raising questions about his war on drugs.

Nearly 4,000 Filipinos have been killed by police in the campaign since June 2016. Human rights groups accuse police of carrying out illegal killings, staging crime scenes and falsifying reports, a charge they deny.

 “Human rights is a key element of our foreign policy and of our trade policy,” said Champagne.

In 2016, the 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.

The Canadian Commercial Corp., whose role includes selling military goods to other countries on behalf of the government, says the Philippines agreed to buy the Canadian-made Bell helicopters at the end of December.

 

Those include extrajudicial killings, the destruction of homes, unlawful arrests and other alleged violations.

Last year, the Canada-based International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines wrote to Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland asking whether the Canadian helicopters sold in 2015 had been used for such purposes.

Bern Jagunos, who wrote the letter on behalf of the coalition, told The Canadian Press on Tuesday that Freeland never responded. The most recent sale, Jagunos added, only underscores the need for answers and safeguards.

Cesar Jaramillo of arms-control group Project Ploughshares, said Canada has already supported the military of a known human-rights abuser through the multibillion-dollar sale of armoured vehicles to Saudi Arabia.

“President Duterte’s government has achieved global notoriety for its blatant disregard of basic human rights and its systematic threats against human rights activists,” Jaramillo said in an email.

“The fact that Canadian equipment is making its way to the Philippine military raises serious questions about the effectiveness of Canada’s exports controls-and about potential Canadian complicity, however unintended, in instances of human rights violation.”

Canada is selling helicopters to the Philippines military just months after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau voiced concerns over human rights abuses by the country’s security forces.

 “The helicopters will be used for the military’s internal security operations,” Philippines Major-General Restituto Padilla, military chief of plans, said. He said the aircraft could also be used for search-and-rescue and disaster relief operations.

The deal, worth more than US$233.36-million produced in Mirabel, Que. comes as the Philippines military prepares to step up operations against Islamist and communist rebels.

Arms control advocates question why the Trudeau government is helping equip the military of a country where death squads have carried out unlawful or unauthorized killings for years – activities that have prompted concern at the highest levels in Ottawa.

“Once again, Canadian equipment is going to the military of a known human rights violator,” said Cesar Jaramillo, executive director of Project Ploughshares, a disarmament group that is an agency of the Canadian Council of Churches and which tracks arms shipments.

NDP foreign affairs critic Hélène Laverdière called for Canada to halt this sale and refuse export permits. “How can Trudeau justify this deal with the Philippines when Duterte’s government has plunged the country into a terrible human-rights crisis?” the NDP MP said on Twitter.

Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland’s office referred questions about the sale to her department.

A Global Affairs spokeswoman said Canada is of the opinion the goods sold to the Philippines military will be used “explicitly for the purpose of disaster relief, search and rescue, passenger transport and utility transport.”

Brianne Maxwell said the transaction supports more than 1,000 jobs in Canada.

The Bell 412EPI helicopters will be delivered early next year as Mr. Duterte refocuses the armed forces modernization program to tackle growing domestic threats as Maoist fighters and pro-Islamic State extremists try to regroup.

According to Human Rights Watch, since taking office in 2016, Mr. Duterte has carried out a “war on drugs” campaign that resulted in the death of more than 7,000 suspected drug dealers and addicts.

 Cases investigated by the media and rights groups “invariably found unlawful executions by police or agents of the police typically acting as death squads,” Human Rights Watch says.

Mr. Duterte has been outspoken in support of the anti-drug campaign and has sought to silence its critics. According to Human Rights Watch, “no meaningful investigation into the killings has been undertaken.”