Philippines’ Duterte axes Canadian helicopter deal, admits he wanted them to ‘finish off’ rebels

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau shakes hands with Philippine President Rodrigo Dutertebefore the opening ceremony of the 31st Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit in Manila on November 13, 2017. Duterte says he is cancelling a deal to buy helicopters from Canada, after the Trudeau government announced it would be subject to a human rights review. MARK R. CRISTINO/AFP/Getty Images

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte says he is cancelling his country’s plans to buy 16 military helicopters from Canada now that the Trudeau government is reviewing the deal over human-rights concerns.

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While Duterte says he respects Canada’s position, he also opposes any condition that would restrict using the helicopters in fighting terrorists and communist rebels inside his country.

Known for his impromptu decisions and public outbursts, Duterte declared in a nationally televised news conference in southern Davao city, his hometown, that he wants the helicopter deal, along with purchases of unspecified U.S. weapons, halted.

“I want to tell the armed forces to cut the deal, don’t proceed with it and somehow we will look for another supplier,” Duterte said of the helicopter purchase.

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Although he said he respects Canada’s stand, Duterte said using the helicopters just to ferry troops and dead soldiers is “a crazy proposition.”

“I’m buying helicopters because I want to finish them off,” said Duterte, referring to Muslim and communist rebels along with Islamic militants in the country’s volatile south.

“I hope that we will never be called upon to use arms in their defence or for them. You will never get it for as long as I am president. We are neutral,” Duterte said, without making clear if he was referring to Canada or the U.S., his country’s treaty ally, or both.

The helicopter deal is worth an estimated $300 million and was quietly facilitated by Canadian Commercial Corp., a Crown corporation whose role includes selling Canadian-made military equipment to foreign governments.

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The government initially defended the deal, saying the helicopters would only be used for disaster relief and search-and-rescue missions, and that the sale would support upwards of 1,000 jobs in the Montreal area.

But a senior officer in the Philippines military, which has been accused of committing human-rights abuses in its war with local terrorists and rebels, admitted they would be used for internal security operations.

READ MORE: Justin Trudeau slammed by Philippines leader for asking about human rights

International Trade Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne, who ordered the deal’s review, says Duterte’s comments underline the confusion and contradictions that have surrounded the deal.

— With files from The Associated Press

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