MANILA -- There are more than enough suppliers to provide the Philippine requirement for combat utility helicopters (CUHs) should the country's contract with Bell Helicopter and Canadian Commercial Corp. (CCC) fall through.

"Are there other suppliers if the Canada deal will not push through? Yes, there are," Department of National Defense (DND) Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said in a message Friday night.

He, however, did not mention these possible suppliers.

Lorenzana made the statement in the wake of President Rodrigo R. Duterte's order to the military to cancel the PHP12-billion contract for the 16 Bell 412 EPIs following reports that Canada would review the purchase of the aircraft on the grounds that they might be used in operations against rebel groups.

As of Friday night, Lorenzana said he has yet to receive any order regarding the President’s directive.

"I have not heard about cancelling. As of now, I am optimistic that it would proceed and the choppers will be delivered on time," the defense chief said.

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

"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 Combat Utility Helicopter (CUH)," Padilla added.

"Its 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," he said.

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.

"Hence, the CUH will be employed for numerous lifesaving tasks as well. The Canadians were among those who helped us following the wrath of Super Typhoon Yolanda and employed similar helicopters. We are confident that they are fully aware of the utilization of the CUH. Having said that, we hope that this deal will not be politicized," Padilla added.

Earlier, the Canadian government said they would review the contract after reportedly learning that the aircraft would be used for operations against rebel forces.

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, while CCC was represented by its director for Asia, Yvonne Chin. Delivery of the first Bell 412 EPI helicopter units is expected to commence 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 used in HADR and related missions.

These aircraft are fully configured and equipped with advance features, including 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 (about 259 km.), cruise speed of 122 knots (226 km. per hour) and a range of 402 nautical miles (745 km.). They are powered with an enhanced Pratt and Whitney PT6T-3D Twin Pac. (PNA/Photo by Priam F. Nepomuceno)