(Eagle News) — President Rodrigo Duterte said he wanted to completely decommission all Huey helicopters in the Philippine Air Force’s inventory because of their frequent involvement in fatal crashes.
He also said that he wanted to procure six or seven new helicopters for the Air Force in light of the recent chopper crashes that had killed soldiers, and injured several more including top police officers among them former Philippine National Police chief Archie Gamboa last year. Major Gen. Jose Maria Ramos, one of those critically injured in the crash last March, died a few months later.
“Bibili ako ng mga helicopters — para sa mga… Sayang ang buhay. At saka puwede pa naman natin remedyohan sa Bisaya. Eh kung may remedyo diyan, if it can be remedied, we will,” President Duterte said in a speech during a camp visit in Camp Teodulfo Bautista in Jolo, Sulu.
“I am not making any hard promises. But you can rest assured, I will try my best to look for money para palitan ko ‘yung mga luma na,” he said. “Sumasakay rin ako niyan eh.”
Duterte asked Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana if there are still many Huey helicopters in the Air Force. He said that these old choppers should be replaced.
-Huey helicopters grounded-
“Marami pa ba ‘yang Huey na ‘yan? Naiwan? Hindi, palitan ko na sana. Wala ng… Maano na talaga ‘yan, luma na. Maski na sabihin mong — maintenance,” the President said.
“Magpabili siguro ako ng mga anim, pito, okay na ‘yung pampalit sa ano, iyong Huey cargo. Mayroon — mayroon kasi doon deal. Hindi lang natuloy eh. Tatanungin ko.”
PAF grounded all of its Huey helicopters following the crash in Bukidnon. The UH-1H and UH-1D models, or Hueys, are Vietnam War-era helicopters that have been refurbished to serve as the PAF’s main workhorses.
It was reported that the Bukidnon incident was the fourth Air Force rotorcraft to go down in six months, three involving Huey helicopters.
-Duterte pained to hear news of soldiers’ death-
Duterte said that it is very hard for him to hear news of soldiers dying in the performance of their duties.
Seven members of the security force died when the Huey chopper they were riding in crashed in Bukidnon last week.
“Masaktan ka talaga. Kung wala kang koneksyon sa gobyerno, okay lang. But sa kagaya ko, ako ‘yung parang administrador ng bayan tapos ganoon ang nangyari, masakit para sa akin,” he said. “You just don’t know the pain that I suffer every time.”
“So rest assured, soldiers of the Republic, I really love you and I love the way that you are serving the country,” Duterte said.
Malacanang said that even prior to the President’s pronouncement, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) already has an existing procurement program to modernize PAF’s fleet of helicopters. Recently, it commissioned the first six of 16 Polish-made Sikorsky S-70i Black Hawk helicopters ordered in 2019.
The remaining 10 units are expected to be delivered within the first quarter of 2021, defense officials said.
The brand-new Black Hawk helicopters, manufactured by PZL Mielec, a Lockheed Martin/Sikorsky company in Poland, will provide PAF with sustained day-and-night tactical lift, transport, and search-and-rescue capabilities.
The helicopters are being procured by the Philippine government under a $241.5 million government-to-government contract to meet the Horizon 2 phase of the Revised Armed Forces of the Philippines Modernization Program, according to a Palace release.
(Eagle News Service with a Malacanang release)