Lawmaker offers ‘happy ending’ for chopper deal

THE PHILIPPINES should negotiate the delivery of one Russian military helicopter in exchange for its P1.9-billion downpayment for the canceled order for 16 units, according to a congressman.

“Instead of clawing back the P1.9 billion downpayment for the canceled order, which might be difficult if not impossible, we would urge the Department of National Defense to try to get at least one helicopter plus spare parts delivered in return for the money,” Party-list Rep. Marcelino C. Libanan said in a statement on Monday.

Russia asked the Philippines last week to honor the P12.7-billion contract, which former President Rodrigo R. Duterte had canceled for fear of potential US sanctions after Russia invaded Ukraine in February.

“Based on the canceled order, each helicopter costs around P800 million, and the balance of P1.1 billion may be recovered in the form of supplies of spare parts,” said Mr. Libanan, who is a House of Representatives minority leader. 

“This way, the Philippine government’s money does not go to waste, and Russia does not have to worry about reimbursing us the funds,” he said. “This is a practical and sensible solution that could offer both parties a happy ending.” 

Robin Michael U. Garcia, who teaches political economy at the University of Asia and the Pacific, said the government should consider the possibility of US sanctions if it tries to interact with Russia. 

“We definitely still need to think about possible US sanctions,” Mr. Garcia said in a Viber message. “We might also be morally complicit to the invasion of Ukraine if we continue to engage Russia.”

The Philippines would get military helicopters from the United States instead, President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr. said on Oct. 20. The termination of the contract would proceed, he said.

Marat Pavlov, Russia’s ambassador in Manila, told reporters last week 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.

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 cancelation.

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.

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 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 downpayment for the helicopters, the delivery of which was supposed to start in November next year, or 24 months after the contract was signed.

US Ambassador to the Philippines Mary Kay L. Carlson has 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.

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 Marcos government 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. — Norman P. Aquino and Matthew Carl L. Montecillo