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By the looks of it, the P12-billion deal with Canada for 16 brand new Bell-412eP choppers can no longer be saved. Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana has formally cancelled the government-to-government contract after a word war between the two countries over President Rodrigo Duterte's drug war.
What does it mean for the ill-equipped Philippine Air Force? How much longer will it have to wait to acquire brand new choppers to boost its small fleet that includes second-hand choppers?
What's the possible compromise? There's a proposal to transfer the contract to an American counterpart supplying the same Bell-412eP choppers.
It's a possible compromise, assuming the workaround is legal. If President Duterte okays it, the US company will reportedly commi to deliver the choppers within 2018.
It's being discussed but it's not a done deal. Defense officials are keeping their fingers crossed.
What are the other options? The alternative is to wait another two years to get the assets.
The Department of National Defense (DND) is also looking at China, Russia, South Korea and other countries to supply the choppers. But the long procurement process will have to go back to square one if another company is tapped to supply the choppers.
Why are the assets important? The government and the entire military often rely on the Philippine Air Force when moving officials, troops, and supplies around the country.
The Air Force has 8 of these brand new Bell-412 choppers in its current inventory. Some are assigned to the Presidential Airlift Wing.
The military liked the choppers and wanted to acquire more to boost the small fleet of the Philippine Air Force that includes second-hand choppers.
What went wrong with the contract? A repurchase of the Bell-412eP was supposed to be an easy process but the project became controversial when Canada said it would review the contract over concerns the choppers would be used to commit human rights violations.
Canada has called out Duterte's drug war. But it's largely the police, not the military, enforcing it. Peeved, Duterte scrapped the P12-billion contract.
Duterte also earlier cancelled a deal to acquire from the US 26,000 assault rifles for the police after a US senator moved to oppose it over concerns about human rights violations in the Philippines. This happened under the previous administration of US President Barack Obama. It appears Duterte has improved ties with the US under President Donald Trump.
History of controversial chopper acquisitions: It isn't the first time the military's acquisition of choppers has become widely controversial.
President Benigno Aquino III also raised questions about the acquisition of Polish Sokol choppers by the previous Arroyo administration. He riled against the choppers in one of his State of the Nation Addresses.
Two Sokols figured in crash incidents in 2014 and in 2016. The 2014 incident involved a general who would become the Armed Forces of the Philippines chief of staff – General Ricardo Visaya. At the time, he was chief of the 4th Infantry Division.
The Aquino administration also had its own share of controversy. Its project to acquire second-hand UH-1D Huey choppers was widely criticized and was the subject of a Senate hearing.