Manila chief correspondent Jim Gomez used deep sourcing among prominent Philippine officials to break an exclusive about a scrapped deal that would have had the country buying 16 Russian Mi-17 military transport helicopters.

Gomez’s contacts in the Philippine government have provided him with numerous exclusives, including last week’s tip that then-President Rodrigo Duterte had ordered cancellation of the $227 million purchase after three Cabinet members, including then-Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, warned him of U.S. sanctions over such a deal with Russia.

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A Russian Mi-17 helicopter is demonstrated outside Moscow during a military technical forum, June 29, 2019.

AP Photo / Pavel Golovkin

Lorenzana, whose term ended in June, was hard to reach, but Gomez was able to approach him at a U.S. Embassy reception. After a brief discussion, Lorenzana confirmed that he canceled the helicopter deal with Duterte’s approval because of the potentially severe sanctions. Philippine Ambassador to Washington, Jose Romualdez, another longtime Gomez contact, was also present and confirmed the cancellation on the record.

Competitive agencies found the story difficult to match, likely because Philippine defense officials were reportedly instructed not to discuss the issue further. A major competitor ended up citing AP’s reporting in its own version of the story.