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Opinion

Buying Russian choppers was wrong from the start

GOTCHA - Jarius Bondoc - The Philippine Star

The past admin wasted P2 billion in purchasing Russian military helicopters. That amount was the down payment in January 2022 of then-president Rody Duterte and Defense secretary Delfin Lorenzana for 17 heavy-lift units. On June 25, five days before term’s end, they cancelled the deal. President Bongbong Marcos is unlikely to recover the money.

Lorenzana, now Bases Conversion and Development Authority chairman, says it’s up to Marcos to seek reimbursement of the P2 billion. “We don’t know if we can still get it back, since we are the ones who terminated the contract,” he told reporters last week.

Ex-Finance chief Carlos Dominguez had advised cancellation due to the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act. Passed in 2017, CAATSA penalizes countries that buy military hardware from Russia after the latter’s meddling in US elections and annexing Crimea. Among ten sanctions Washington could have imposed on Manila were freezing of Philippine government assets abroad and withholding of Filipino workers’ remittances from the US.

Even without the US law, it was foolish to order military equipment from Russia. For one, as defense procurers know, Russian instruments and manuals are in a language unfamiliar to Filipino soldiers. For another, Russian weapons are not interoperable with systems that the armed forces have acquired from the US, Europe, Australia, Japan and Korea. Third, Russia excludes after sales service; maintenance and repair must be contracted separately.

No different were the 5,000 AK-47 rifles and 20 trucks that Moscow gave to repel the 2017 Marawi siege. Those came with a million rounds and spare tires. But 5,000 troopers practice-firing 200 rounds each would have easily used up the bullets. The tires would have quickly run out on rugged terrain.

It’s an old sales gimmick. Makers give away P1,500 color printers but customers have to frequently replenish P3,500 ink cartridges. The AFP “donated” the Russian rifles and trucks to the National Police.

Politics impelled Duterte to buy from Russia, foreign affairs expert Prof. Renato de Castro said. The former president’s “diplomatic rebalancing” included riling Washington.

That politicking was expensive. Filipinos paid for the P2 billion, but might get no helicopters. Russia can arbitrate and collect penalties for the loss of total P12.7-billion deal. The DND claims the choppers would have been for “humanitarian airlifts,” like disaster relief goods. But it was inhuman to blow P2 billion when, as Rep. Jericho Nograles lamented in December 2021, there was zero budget for AFP hospital upgrade and servicemen’s hospitalization. The Air Force has long wanted US-made Chinook choppers.

Duterte in 2020 went through the process of rescinding the Phl-US Visiting Forces Agreement. That was because the US State Department cancelled the visa of his old pal, ex-PNP chief, now senator Ronald Dela Rosa.

VFA termination would have precluded the older Phl-US Mutual Defense Treaty. Duterte’s political ploy emboldened China to intensify fish coaching and harassment of Filipino oil-and-gas survey vessels in the West Philippine Sea.

Russia now offers to solve the Phillipine petroleum shortage. But noted Filipino petroleum geologist Ed Mañalac advices caution. Shipping oil all the way from Russia’s north-sea rigs would be very costly. The Philippines has no facility for liquefied natural gas from Siberia. “Russia just wants to sell us oil and gas to sustain its invasion of Ukraine,” Mañalac told Sapol-dwIZ last month.

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Rommel Banlaoi, PhD, disputed allegations by “National Security Council employees” of being a “seller of intelligence information.” On the contrary, he freely publishes and speaks on intelligence data he gathers “from the ground,” he told Sapol-dwIZ Saturday. “That is what investigative scholars like me do to add to public knowledge and discourse.”

Banlaoi also denied misrepresenting himself as an adviser of the Dept. of National Defense. He disavowed any “counter-intelligence implications of his sources of information as well as his linkages … to institutions [that] have been receiving funds through conduits from the Chinese government.”

The resumé he sent states that he was a professor at the National Defense College, under DND, in 1998-2008. “We are extra careful when it comes to China-linked groups.”

Earlier recommended to be NSC deputy director general, Banlaoi backed out to avoid compromising National Security adviser and NSC director general Clarita Carlos, PhD. The complaint of unnamed NSC employees had reached President Marcos Jr., who ordered the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency to check Banlaoi’s background.

Derogatory DND files about misrepresentation date back to August 2010. Purportedly, Banlaoi used in a public presentation AFP surveillance photos of Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal. He countered that he picked up the photos from open sources and attributed those to the AFP as captioned.

Separate files at NSC and NICA alleged in June 2013: “It appears Mr. Banlaoi has had access to classified information.” He denied that. (See GOTCHA, 5 Aug. 2022: https://tinyurl.com/kptju7zh)

The DND, AFP, NSC and NICA have not issued him any clearance. That’s because “I was never called to any investigation,” he said. “Still, I was happy about the memos because they meant that our security officials were doing their job.”

He said he was aware of reports of Chinese espionage and influencing in university campuses in other lands. In America, the CIA and FBI investigated more than 2,000 incidents of intellectual property theft, spying and illicit Chinese payoffs leading to dozens of indictments.

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Catch Sapol radio show, Saturdays, 8 to 10 a.m., dwIZ (882-AM).

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