THE Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) said Thursday, February 8, that the purchase of helicopters from the Canadian government is intended for the conduct of search and rescue operations, and not for the military’s intensified campaign against communist rebels.

“Yes, it is for both (search and rescue operations and transporting injured and killed military personnel). We are hit by numerous typhoons annually and the bulk of field operations are for humanitarian assistance and disaster response (HADR),” said AFP deputy chief of staff for plans Major General Restituto Padilla.

“In addition, the transport of wounded and killed in action from problematic areas where we have engagements with rebels is one of its use,” he added.

On Tuesday, military and Canadian government officials signed the agreement on the purchase of 16 Bell 412EPI helicopters $233 million for delivery early next year.

However, on Wednesday, the Canadian government ordered the review of the said agreement amid reports that the military will be using the helicopters for the country’s internal security operations.

Trade Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne said the Canadian government has been very clear with its regulations about to whom it can sell weapons and how they can be used.

"Human rights is a key element of our foreign policy and of our trade policy," he said.

Padilla assured that the helicopters will not be used to launch attacks against the rebels.

“We are not buying an offensive aircraft. You must understand that these are utility helicopters, not attack helicopters,” he said.

“Please do not blow out of proportion issues on its use,” Padilla added.

Human rights group Karapatan said the purchase of the said helicopters will worsen the human rights situation in the country.

“Canada’s $233 million arms sale of military combat helicopters to the Philippine government will enable and worsen the already dire human rights situation under the Duterte administration. We call on the Canadian people and Filipino migrants in Canada to oppose this arms deal and intensify support for human and people’s rights in the Philippines,” said Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay.

She said in 2014, the International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines (ICHRP)-Canada chapter raised questions after the sale of Canada’s eight Bell 421EPI helicopters to the Philippine Army was announced.

Palabay said the Philippine Air Force then said that three of the said choppers were commissioned “for VIPs” and five as combat utility helicopters for ground attacks and air assaults.

She said the group was worried that the helicopters may be used for aerial bombings after President Rodrigo Duterte ordered the military to “drop bombs” on rebels and consider civilian casualties as “collateral damage.”

Karapatan said under the Duterte administration, they have recorded 356,304 civilians affected by aerial bombings in 46 incidents when such air strikes were launched and 426,590 victims of forcible evacuation due to said bombings and military ground combat operations.

“Such aerial bombings show the Duterte regime’s complete disregard for people’s rights and international humanitarian law. Marawi City was pulverized to the ground through airstrikes, with civilians killed and homes of residents destroyed. Duterte’s threats to bomb Lumad schools continue to hound indigenous and peasant communities in Mindanao. His militarist hubris comes not only from his government’s fascist designs to suppress legitimate dissent, but also from the complicity and support by foreign governments that provide funds and arms used by the military and police to kill civilians and destroy whole communities,” Palabay said.

“In the context of Duterte’s sabotage of Philippine government’s peace talks with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines, his announced crackdown of progressive organizations whom he perceives as enemies of the State, the sell-out of ancestral domains of indigenous communities to businesses and corporations, and his anti-people drug war, Canada’s arms deal with this murderous regime will render its government complicit on the consequent right violations against the Filipino people,” she added. (SunStar Philippines)