Bell UH-1 Australian Defence Forces (photo : ADF)
The Philippines has asked Australia to donate a dozen UH-1H Huey helicopters to beef up its military's efforts to defeat Muslim and Maoist guerrillas, officials have said.
Manila has previously said it needs more helicopters to prevent Islamic militants from neighbouring states seeking sanctuary on a southern island where Muslim rebels have been fighting for nearly 40 years to gain self-determination.
"The Philippines is asking Australia to gift them with about a dozen helicopters," Vic Jones, an official at the Australian Embassy in Manila said, adding a decision might be made later this year.
"If we decide to give them, it would be at no cost."
Foreign Affairs Minister Stephen Smith is currently visiting the Philippines. Officials said he and his Philippine counterpart, Alberto Romulo, have discussed counter-terrorism, defence and security issues at a meeting.
Mr Smith said after the meeting he was disappointed over the failure of Manila and Muslim rebels to sign a deal on territory and urged both sides to return to negotiations.
An official from the Philippine defence department said the request to acquire 12 UH-1H helicopters from Australia was sent to Canberra earlier this year.
"It would help increase our flexibility in dealing with internal security problems," the official said.
The Philippines has only 40 helicopters, mostly second-hand, donated by the United States as part of military assistance to fight communist New People's Army rebels and Muslim militants with ties to Jemaah Islamiah.
Last year, Australia decommissioned 37 Vietnam War-era UH-1H helicopters but only a dozen are in flying condition. Manila was among three or four countries in Asia and Pacific to ask for the combat helicopters.
Australia is the second-largest source of military aid to the Philippines after the United States, training 130 Filipino soldiers every year in Australian military schools.
Australia is also helping Manila set up a defence system to boost maritime security along the country's southern borders with Malaysia and Indonesia and stop piracy, smuggling and entry of Islamic militants on southern Mindanao island.
Mr Jones said Australia was also delivering 39 shallow boats early next year to be used by the Philippine army in anti-terrorism operations in the south.