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Manila to get choppers from US instead of Russia

RUSSIAN Air Force Mil Mi-17 — VITALY V. KUZMIN

THE PHILIPPINES will get military helicopters from the United States after canceling a contract with Russia, President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr. said on Thursday.

Mr. Marcos told reporters the termination of the contract would proceed. “Now, we have secured an alternative supply from the United States.”

He also said the government wanted to get “at least a percentage” of the downpayment to Russia.

Russia on Wednesday asked the Philippines to honor a P12.7-billion deal to buy 16 military helicopters, which former-President Rodrigo R. Duterte had canceled for fear of potential US sanctions after Russia invaded Ukraine in February.

Marat Pavlov, Russia’s ambassador in Manila, told reporters they had yet to get officially notified about the termination of the contract.

“We are ready to fulfill all our obligations as a reliable partner of the Philippine side in the field of technical and military cooperation and we consider that it will also be done by the Philippines,” he said, based on an e-mailed transcript.

“I’m not discussing how it should be done but I would like to reaffirm that the Russian side is continuing to fulfill all obligations regarding this contract and we consider this valid until now,” he added.

The Philippine Defense department had started formalizing the termination of the contract with Sovtechnoexport LLC, it said in August.

The government was also preparing to start a diplomatic dialogue with the Russian side regarding matters arising from the project’s cancellation.

But Mr. Pavlov said the chopper maker continues to assemble the helicopters since the Philippines had paid a downpayment. Filipino pilots had also been trained, he added.

“Because we received the amount of the money, therefore we’re fulfilling all the contractual obligations,” he added.

They envoy said one fully assembled helicopter, a free bonus from the deal, had been delivered to the Philippines in June but was rejected.

Mr. Pavlov said the deal was struck by the Duterte government “without any pressure from the Russian side, citing the Philippines’ independent foreign policy.

He also said Mr. Duterte had said then the Russian helicopters were robust and solid and that the choppers were to be used for humanitarian and transportation purposes.

“The current administration would like to continue the course of independent foreign policy, and I think it is in favor of independent foreign policy the fulfillment of this very important contract of the Russian Federation and the Philippines,” he added.

The US is willing to strike a deal for the amount the Philippines was set to spend on the 16 Russian Mi-17 choppers, Philippine Ambassador to the US Jose Manuel G. Romualdez said in August.

The Chinooks would replace existing hardware used for the movement of troops and in disaster preparedness in the Philippines, he added.

The Philippines is in talks with Russia to recover its $38-million downpayment for the helicopters, the delivery of which was supposed to start in November next year, or 24 months after the contract was signed.

The Philippines is at the tail-end of a five-year P300-billion modernization of its outdated military hardware that includes warships from World War II and helicopters used by the US in the Vietnam War.

Aside from military deals, the Philippines under President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr. also wants increased economic exchanges with the US including in manufacturing, digital infrastructure, clean energy and modular nuclear power, Mr. Romualdez said.

He also said the Philippines would ally itself with the US in case tensions with China regarding Taiwan lead to a war.

The envoy, a second cousin of the president, said the Mutual Defense Treaty with the US does not automatically tie Manila to all US conflicts. It is based more on the country’s area of responsibility that includes the South China Sea and surrounding waters, he said.

The treaty requires both sides to help each other in case of any external aggression.

US Ambassador to the Philippines Mary Kay L. Carlson on Monday said the US had given the Philippines a $100-million military grant for its defense modernization plan, which could offset the cancelation of the Russian contract.

Meanwhile, the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs said its embassy in Warsaw and consulate in Kyiv, Ukraine was “constantly monitoring the conditions and circumstances of Filipinos who remain in Ukraine” after Russia declared martial law in some regions there.

Twenty-five Filipinos in Ukraine had been accounted for, most of them living in Kyiv, and none from the four regions where martial law was declared — Kherson, Zaporizhzhia, Donetsk and Luhansk, it said in a statement on Thursday.

“The department, embassy and the honorary consulate general stand ready to repatriate our kababayans should they request assistance for immediate return to the country,” DFA spokesperson Ma. Teresita C. Daza told reporters in a WhatsApp message.

DFA had helped about 400 Filipinos in Ukraine come home in the first half of the year, she said. — Alyssa Nicole O. Tan, Norman P. Aquino and Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza

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