What Went Before: The Secondhand Chopper Scam
On November 23, 2011, a fact-finding panel of the Office of the Ombudsman found Jose Miguel “Mike” Arroyo liable for graft charges in relation with the allegedly anomalous purchase of secondhand helicopters by the Philippine National Police (PNP) in 2009.
The case stemmed from earlier revelations in the investigation by the Senate blue ribbon committee that two Raven helicopters purchased by the PNP in 2009 belonged to Arroyo, and were made to appear brand-new.
Both the PNP and the Senate blue ribbon committee filed complaints against Arroyo and other officials in the Office of the Ombudsman.
On Sept.2 last year, while the Senate investigation was ongoing, the PNP filed a plunder case against Arroyo, while on Oct. 13, the blue ribbon committee recommended that he be charged with graft.
On Jan. 19 this year, Mike Arroyo asked the Office of the Ombudsman to dismiss the graft complaint filed against him.
In May 2009, the PNP negotiated with Manila Aerospace Products Trading Corp. (Maptra) for the purchase of three new helicopters for its Special Action Force.
The purchase order worth P105 million was approved and signed by then PNP Director General Jesus Verzosa on Sept. 22, 2009.
On July 4, 2011, Senator Panfilo Lacson alleged in a speech that two of the helicopters were not brand-new contrary to what was supposedly made to appear in the purchase agreement.
He claimed that the helicopters were preowned by then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and her husband, Mike Arroyo, as they had flight logs recorded as far back as March 2004.
Subsequently, Lacson, along with Senator Teofisto Guingona III, chairman of the blue ribbon committee, filed Senate Resolution No. 518 asking for an investigation of the sale.
Arroyos used choppers
Amid the controversy, the PNP put the two Robinson R44 Raven I helicopters out of commission. The PNP also denied knowing about the condition of the choppers and demanded that the supplier replace them with brand-new units.
Arroyo denied Lacson’s allegations, but on July 18, the Department of the Interior and Local Government said at a news briefing that the flight logs showed Gloria Arroyo’s immediate family, particularly Mike and his elder son, Ang Galing Pinoy Representative Juan Miguel “Mikey” Arroyo, virtually controlled the use of the helicopters, based on their frequent trips.
Records also showed that the helicopters were previously registered to Asian Spirit Inc. which leased them to Lionair Inc. in 2004.
On July 28, the Senate conducted its first hearing on the controversy.
On Aug. 2, Maptra president Hilario de Vera told the Senate that Archibald Po, owner of Lionair Inc., had pressured him into selling the two secondhand helicopters to the PNP allegedly at Arroyo’s behest.
Po admitted facilitating Mike Arroyo’s purchase of five Robinson R44 Raven I helicopters months before the 2004 presidential election.
Po said the aircraft was for the election campaign of then President Arroyo. The businessman said he was asked to sign a blank deed of assignment after Mike Arroyo completed payments for the choppers.
Po said he delivered $700,000 in cash to Mike Arroyo at the LTA Building in Makati City after Maptra paid Lionair P40 million for the two used helicopters.
Senators surmised that at the going rate of P45:$1 at the time, Arroyo received an equivalent of P31.5 million in cash.
Po added that two helicopters were still at the Lionair hangar in Pasay City as the two others had been sold to the PNP. A fifth helicopter crashed in 2007.
Mike Arroyo, through his lawyer, denied ownership of the choppers and later filed perjury charges against Po.
At the Aug. 11 hearing, the Senate noted that the specifications of the helicopters that the PNP needed were altered to accommodate Arroyo’s choppers.
The resolution for the new specifications was signed by then Interior Secretary Ronaldo Puno as National Police Commission chair and then PNP Director General Avelino Razon as Napolcom commissioner.
The Senate also pointed to a conspiracy to cover up the real owner of the used choppers.
On Aug. 15, Mike’s brother, Negros Occidental Rep. Ignacio “Iggy” Arroyo, through his lawyer, presented a document showing that LTA Inc., the family-owned company of the Arroyos, merely leased five helicopters from Lionair for two months in 2004. He also said the choppers belonged to Po.
Iggy Arroyo, who was seeking treatment in London for a liver ailment at the time, said that he was the president of LTA Inc. when the lease agreement was signed with Lionair and that his elder brother “was not part of our company during those material dates.” He added that his brother divested himself of his shares in LTA Inc. in March 2001.
The Senate asked Iggy Arroyo to appear before the body to prove his claims, but to no avail.
At the Aug. 22 hearing, Rowena del Rosario, a former bookkeeper of LTA, claimed that Iggy Arroyo paid at least P18 million in cash for the lease of the helicopters from Lionair but the transactions were not recorded in the books of LTA Inc.
Her incredulous statements led the committee to order her detention in the Senate. She was freed three days after.
At the same hearing, Edith Solano-Juguan, a marketing executive of Lionair, told senators that when she went to collect the payments for the maintenance of the remaining two choppers at the LTA building once a month, she often saw Mike Arroyo and rarely caught a glimpse of his brother, Iggy.
On Sept. 2, the PNP antifraud division chief, Senior Supt. Edgar Danao, filed plunder charges against Mike Arroyo, Verzosa, Puno and 23 others.
3 senators file rap
On Oct. 13, Senators Guingona, Lacson and Aquilino Pimentel III of the blue ribbon committee, filed a complaint against Arroyo and 18 others in the Office of the Ombudsman for violation of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, and the Government Procurement Reform Act for defrauding the government of P62.7 million.
Through the complaint, the three senators referred the committee’s findings on what it called the “fraudulent, anomalous and irregular acquisition” by the PNP of two helicopters from Maptra for preliminary investigation. Inquirer Research
Sources: Inquirer Archives