Philippines in talks to buy US helicopters after dropping Russia deal

PHILIPPINE STAR/EDD GUMBAN

MANILA – The Philippines is looking to buy heavy-lift Chinook helicopters from the United States, after scrapping a deal with Russia worth P12.7 billion ($227.35 million) in order to avoid sanctions, Manila’s ambassador to Washington said on Monday.

In June, days before President Rodrigo Duterte ended his six-year term, the Philippines scrapped a deal to buy 16 Mi-17 Russian military transport helicopters because of fears of U.S. sanctions linked to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“This cancellation of this contract is precipitated mainly by the war in Ukraine. While there are sanctions expected to come our way, from the United States and western countries, obviously it is not in our interest to continue and pursue this contract,” ambassador Jose Manuel Romualdez told journalists in a virtual forum.

Moscow says it is conducting a “special military operation” in Ukraine.

Mr. Romualdez said the Chinooks would replace existing hardware used for the movement of troops and in disaster preparedness in the Southeast Asian country.

The United States is willing to strike a deal for the amount the Philippines was set to spend on the Russian helicopters, Romualdez said, adding the deal with Washington will likely include maintenance, service and parts.

The Philippines is pursuing discussions with Russia to recover its $38 million down payment 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The Philippines is at the tail-end of a five-year, P300 billion-modernization of its outdated military hardware that includes warships from World War Two and helicopters used by the United States in the Vietnam War.

Aside from military deals, the Philippines, under new President Ferdinand Marcos Jr, also wants increased economic exchanges with the United States including in fields of manufacturing, digital infrastructure and clean energy, including modular nuclear power, Mr. Romualdez said. — Reuters