AP – Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr yesterday backed a decision by his predecessor to cancel a deal to buy 16 Russian military heavy-lift helicopters and said his administration has “secured an alternative supply from the United States (US).”
Marcos said at a news conference that the Philippine government will negotiate to get back part of the down payment it made to the Russian aircraft manufacturer.
It was the first time Marcos Jr., who took office in June, has commented publicly on the touchy issue involving Russia. His predecessor, Rodrigo Duterte, signed the deal to buy the Mi-17 helicopters but decided before his term ended to cancel the contract due to fears of possible Western sanctions.
“I think it was already determined by the previous administration that that deal will not carry through, will not go on,” Marcos Jr said when asked to comment on a call by the Russian ambassador to Manila for the Philippine government to honor the helicopter deal.
“We have secured an alternative supply from the US,” the president said. He added that without elaborating, that the US aircraft to be ordered by the Philippines would be manufactured in Poland.
Moscow’s ambassador to Manila, Marat Pavlov, told reporters on Wednesday night that the Philippine government has not officially notified Russia of its decision to cancel the deal and a Russian company was proceeding to manufacture the Mi-17 helicopters after the Philippines made an initial payment.
Filipino pilots who would operate the helicopters have undergone Russian training, he said.
The Russian aircraft manufacturer was ready to deliver one of the helicopters in June “but unfortunately, it was not accepted by your government”, Pavlov said.
“We are ready to fulfil all our obligations as a reliable partner of the Philippine side in the field of technical military cooperation and we consider that it will also be done by the Philippines,” Pavlov said.
The Department of National Defense in Manila, however, said it formally notified the Russian aircraft manufacturer Sovtechnoexport in June and last month of the Philippine decision to cancel the contract.
The defense department has convened a committee to thresh out the details of the withdrawal from the deal, department spokesman Arsenio Andolong said.
“Unfortunately, we made a down payment that we are hoping to negotiate to get at least a percentage of that back,” Marcos Jr. said.
Former Philippine Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana and Ambassador to Washington Jose Manuel Romualdez first confirmed the government’s decision to terminate the deal in interviews with The Associated Press in July.
The decision, which was approved by Duterte, was made amid concern over possible Western sanctions which could include restrictions that would slow down bank transfers of the huge amounts of money that Filipino workers send home from the US and other Western countries, according to Romualdez.