The Philippines is seeking to acquire heavy military helicopters and nuclear technology from the United States after it canceled a similar helicopter deal with Russia over fears of US sanctions, Manila’s envoy to Washington said on Monday.
The Philippine Department of National Defense said last week it had formed a committee to formalize the termination of a contract worth 12.7 billion pesos ($244.2 million) to purchase of 16 Russian-made aircraft. Mil Mi-17 Helicopters as part of a deal where Moscow agreed to include a 17th at no extra cost.
Washington did not force the Philippines to back out of the deal with Russia, Ambassador Jose Romualdez told the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines (FOCAP) in Manila.
“There was no pressure. It has been made clear from the start, especially during the situation in Ukraine, that the United States and its Western allies are imposing many sanctions on Russia. Everyone knows that,” Romualdez said. “If you buy anything from Russia, you will be punished.”
The Philippine government signed the deal with Russia last November but, after Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022, then-President Rodrigo Duterte decided to cancel the purchase before giving in power to new President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. in late June, the envoy said.
“I think it was really prudent, especially for President Duterte, to approve the cancellation of this contract because it can save us a lot of problems,” Romualdez said during an online press conference organized by FOCAP.
U.S. officials put a bid on the table to sell Boeing CH-47 Chinook helicopters to Manila even before cabinet officials persuaded Duterte to drop the Russian deal, Romualdez said.
It was a “convenient thing” to acquire American helicopters as it was “cheaper for us in the end” given that the Russian agreement only covered the actual cost of the helicopters and did not include provisions for repairs, the ambassador said.
Romualdez said the government wanted to recoup its $38 million down payment from Moscow, likely in the form of other weapons.
“Certainly we won’t just say goodbye to that money,” Romualdez said. “It’s still a big sum as far as we’re concerned.”
The Philippines and the United States are allies in a 1951 mutual defense treaty, but during his tenure Duterte sought to alienate the Southeast Asian nation from Washington. He instead turned to China and Russia while defying US policies despite territorial disputes between Manila and Beijing over the South China Sea.
Marcos or his energy officials, meanwhile, should meet with their U.S. counterparts to discuss the possibility of acquiring modular power plants, Romualdez said.
“As you know, the United States is developing a modular nuclear power plant. We are reviewing it. There is a private company in the United States offering to provide this as soon as it becomes available,” Romualdez said.
“Energy is one of our major needs in the future. We would like to be part of the Paris agreement on climate change. We want to play a major role on that,” he said. “And so this offer made by the United States to fund it and be able to install it…it’s the best as far as clean energy goes.”
Two months ago, the Philippines signed a memorandum of understanding with the US State Department on how the country could roll out these technologies, he said.
“In order to be able to develop nuclear energy, you have to obtain the approval of the United Nations. They are trying to speed this up because of climate change,” he said.
“This modular power plant is much safer. It is easier to install. It will not take years to be able to start. Maybe up to three to five years,” Romualdez said.
Khevin Yu, an activist with the environmental activist group Greenpeace, wondered if nuclear energy could be considered a form of renewable energy because uranium is used to power reactors.
“They should support the development of renewable energy,” Yu told BenarNews.
“Building modular nuclear power will take more than a decade. What they are saying are just marketing claims that are not yet proven,” he said, pointing out that a power plant in the Philippines would require obtaining uranium and expertise from ‘other countries.
No country in Southeast Asia has a civilian nuclear power plant in working order.
Under the regime of dictator Ferdinand Marcos, the late father of the current president, the country began construction of the Bataan nuclear power plant in 1976 in an area about 100 km (62 miles) west of Manila.
The plant, which was built over a major fault line, was mothballed for safety reasons following the Chernobyl disaster in 1986.
Romualdez acknowledged that the Bataan project was also riddled with corruption.
Jeoffrey Maitem from Davao City, Philippines contributed to this report.