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PH to scrap P12-B helicopter deal with Bell, CCC: Lorenzana



The Department of National Defense (DND) is now preparing the letter for the cancellation of the purchase of 16 Bell EPI combat utility helicopters (CUHs) worth PHP12 billion from Canada.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said Monday he will sign the letter anytime this week.

"The formal letter cancelling the contract is being prepared and I will sign it this week. We are looking at Korea, Russia, China and Turkey and other countries for our the medium lift helicopters in lieu of the Bell 412," Lorenzana emphasized.

But he admitted that the cancellation will affect the DND project to acquire medium-lift helicopters as this has set the process "back to square one".

The cancellation came in wake of the Canadian government's move to review the deal after receiving reports that the Philippines is planning to use the helicopters against rebel forces, a claim strongly denied by the DND and Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).

This prompted President Rodrigo Duterte to order the DND and AFP to cancel the deal with Bell Helicopter and Canadian Commercial Corporation (CCC) which is licensed to manufacture the Bell 412 EPI being ordered by country.

Earlier, the DND chief said that they are more than enough suppliers to meet the Philippine requirement for CUHs should the country's contract with Bell Helicopter and CCC fall through or be terminated.

"Are there other suppliers if the Canada deal will not push through? Yes, there are," Lorenzana stressed.

Earlier, AFP deputy chief of staff for plans Major Gen. Restituto Padilla said from the onset both Bell Helicopter and CCC are aware that the soon-to-be acquired 16 Bell 412 EPI choppers will be utilized as "combat utility helicopter".

"The AFP deal for the acquisition of the Canadian Bell 412 as a combat utility helicopter is a very transparent one. From the very onset, the contract has specified that we are acquiring a CUH," he added.

"It’s intended use as combat utility helicopter is for the transport of troops especially combat casualties and for troop sustainment. It is not an offensive platform and not armed as such. We have dedicated attack helicopters as offensive platforms for such operations," the military official pointed out.

Lorenzana, however, questioned the timing of raising the issue regarding the deal.

"Wrong (information) or not I think there is malice in the way it is being raised. First, This is just a repeat order. Why do they raise that issue now? Second, It is not an attack helicopter but a medium lift. Meaning pang hakot ng tao, supplies. Third, hindi naman ito hinihingi kundi bibilhin. We do not have to justify how we use these equipment," he noted.

And since the Philippines lies in the path of the Pacific Ring of Fire, a disaster prone area, Padilla said the nation's disaster response plan had tasked the AFP to take the lead in undertaking humanitarian assistance and disaster response (HADR) during such times of contingencies.

On Dec. 29, 2017, Lorenzana and representatives of Bell Helicopter and CCC signed the deal for the purchase of the helicopters worth PHP12 billion. Representing Bell Helicopter in the contract signing was James Williamson and Yvonne Chin, CCC Director for Asia.

Delivery of the first Bell 412 EPI helicopters units are supposed to start by the first quarter of 2019 while the last batch will be handed over by the second quarter of 2020.

Acquisition of these helicopters is part of the AFP Modernization Program Horizon 2 and will be use in humanitarian assistance and disaster relief and other-related missions.

These aircraft are fully configured and equipped with advance features, which includes an electronic engine control, a glass cockpit display system and Garmin touchscreen navigation system.

Generally, these helicopters are capable of carrying 14 passengers and flying at a maximum speed of 140 knots (around 259 kilometers), cruise speed of 122 knots (226 kilometers per hour) and a range of 402 nautical miles (745 kilometers). It is powered with an enhanced Pratt and Whitney PT6T-3D Twin Pac.

Priam Nepomuceno / PNA