Trudeau holds firm as Duterte vows end to buying Canada, US arms

Duterte gestures at a press conference in Davao City, in the southern island of Mindanao. PHOTO: AFP

MANILA (BLOOMBERG) - Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is undeterred by Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte's vow to end military purchases from countries including the US and Canada that impose conditions on how the weaponry is used, standing by his country's review of a helicopter sale.

"The statements that have been coming out of the Philippines on the potential or possible uses of those helicopters have given us cause to need to follow up on that, and that's exactly what we're doing," Trudeau said on Saturday (Feb10) in Los Angeles, during a visit with the city's mayor.

Trudeau responded after Duterte on Friday said he's scrapping the acquisition of 16 Canadian Bell helicopters.

"Do not buy anymore from Canada or from the United States because there is always a condition attached," Duterte told reporters in Davao City, where he previously served as mayor, on Friday before announcing in a subsequent speech that the deal would be cancelled.

The Canadian government denied the deal had been scrapped.

Canada ordered a review a day after the agreement was signed amid concern that the aircraft would be used against Filipino rebels. Duterte didn't deny that: "We will really use these weapons invariably against the rebels and terrorists," he said on Friday, according to a transcript provided by his office.

DRUGS CRACKDOWN

Trudeau said on Saturday that Canada has a responsibility to look into how equipment it sells, whether military or not, is used. His administration has referred further questions to the Canadian Commercial Corporation, a government agency that handles such sales.

The Canadian agency declined to comment, citing the review.

"As we are involved in that process, it would be inappropriate to make any further comment at this time," the CCC said in an emailed statement that didn't identify a spokesperson.

Since taking office in June 2016, the 72-year-old Duterte has launched a crackdown on drugs that's killed thousands, prompting an investigation by the International Criminal Court based in the Netherlands for alleged human rights violations. Months into his term, the US halted a planned sale of 26,000 assault rifles to Philippine police on concern over the killings. Duterte responded by scrapping the weapons deal.

RUSSIA, CHINA

Despite concerns over Duterte's handling of the drug war, the US military provided hundreds of weapons to the Philippine Marines in 2017 as part of an American counter-terrorism program in the country. Still, since the cancelled 2016 arms sale, Duterte and other Filipino officials have complained that purchasing weapons from the US is a slow process beset with too many conditions.

"That's why we are discouraged from getting from them, because of these conditions," Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana told reporters in May.

Duterte has instead worked to secure weapons deals and stronger relationships with Russia and China. In October Russia gave the Philippines 5,000 rifles, 5,000 steel helmets and a million rounds of ammunition, a day after the countries signed two arms agreements. China gave the Philippines 3,000 rifles the same month as a friendly gesture.

The brash, tough-talking leader, who enjoys strong support at home, threatened to withdraw from a treaty that helped form the International Criminal Court, while daring it to execute him if he's found guilty of crimes against humanity. Duterte vowed to eliminate illegal drugs, corruption and bureaucratic red tape when he became president.

"Find me guilty, of course, you can do that. I don't want imprisonment," he said at the briefing. "I beg of you to find a country where they execute."

This isn't Duterte's first spat with Canada. In November, he lashed out at Trudeau and visiting officials from Europe over their criticism of alleged human rights abuses committed as part of the country's drug war.

"I will never, never allow a foreigner to question why it is so - it is an insult," he told reporters in an expletive-laden response at the time to questions about Trudeau's decision to bring up thousands of extra-judicial killings. Trudeau was among a handful of world leaders who criticised the drugs crackdown while in Manila last year to attend meetings of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

Duterte also on Friday threatened to close the resort island of Boracay in the central Philippines, a tourist attraction known for its powdery white sand, if environmental degradation isn't addressed. He also reiterated he will halt open-pit mining operations.

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