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Philippines may consider replacing scrapped Russian choppers with weapons —Amb. Romualdez

The Philippines may consider replacing the 16 canceled Russian helicopters with weapons as part of the $38-million down payment it is trying to recover from Moscow after Manila scrapped the agreement due to possible sanctions, the country’s top diplomat to Washington said Monday.

Ambassador Jose Manuel Romualdez said this is one of the options that he will propose to President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and the Department of Defense (DND) and the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) after the contract to acquire MI-7 helicopters was terminated by the Philippine government to avoid US and western sanctions.

“Definitely we will not just simply say goodbye to that money,” Romualdez told the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines in a briefing.

“Maybe we can look for the supply of other things we may need from Russia to replace the helicopters as part of the payment.”

In addition, Romualdez said, the Philippines is looking into acquiring heavy-lift Chinook helicopters from the US instead.

The helicopter purchase agreement with Russia’s Sovtechnoexport was signed in November last year.

Duterte's former Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said getting the money back may be difficult since a contract has already been signed.

“In exchange for that we may probably get some of the arms that we may need,” Romualdez said, adding “these are just ideas that are being thrown around” as one part of the efforts to recover the money.

The contract would have enabled the delivery of the first batch of transport helicopters in two years, but Manila is likely to face pressure from Washington due to an existing sanctions legislation that prohibits the purchase of military equipment from countries like Russia.

The Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act or CAATSA prevents the Philippines from pushing through with the Russian deal.

Romualdez said Russia’s war against Ukraine also precipitated the cancellation of the agreement also seen to face opposition from western states.

“It’s still a big amount as far as we’re concerned. Something we can’t really afford,” said Romualdez. “While there are sanctions that are expected to come our way from the US and western countries, obviously it is not in our interest to continue and pursue this contract.”

The Russian-made heavy-lift helicopters could have been used for combat, search and rescue operations, and medical evacuations, Philippine officials said.

According to Romualdez, the US government could offer similar helicopters to the Philippines for the same price that includes maintenance services and parts, terms that were not included in the deal with Russia.

“I understand the United States has offered to try to come out with a similar amount that we’re going to spend for the Russian helicopters, in other words, at a special price. So that’s something we’re exploring. Hopefully will be able to pursue that offer made by the United States,” Romualdez said.

In March this year, the DND said the Philippines will proceed with the acquisition of 17 helicopters from Russia despite the latter's conflict with Ukraine.

Lorenzana said the deal and initial payment for the project were made even before the start of the crisis in Ukraine.

The contract price for the 17 helicopters is P12.7 billion. The delivery is expected in two years.

However, the DND on Wednesday last week said the Philippines is canceling its procurement from Russia of 16 helicopters worth P12.797 billion.

DND spokesman Director Arsenio Andolong said there were “changes in priorities necessitated by global political developments.” —KG/BM, GMA News