‘Former First Gentleman behind chopper sale’
Then First Gentleman Jose Miguel “Mike” Arroyo pushed for the sale of two of his used helicopters that were passed off as brand new to the Philippine National Police, the head of the company that supplied three choppers to the PNP in 2009 for P105 million said on Tuesday.
Hilario de Vera, president of Manila Aerospace Products Trading Corp. (Maptra), testified before the Senate blue ribbon committee that Archibald Po, owner of Lionair Inc., had pressured him into selling the two used units to the PNP allegedly at Arroyo’s behest. Maptra was an accredited supplier of the PNP.
De Vera said he asked Po why Lionair was selling only one brand new unit when the PNP wanted three.
“FG (Arroyo) said only one brand new,” Po allegedly replied. “If you don’t want to follow, you can’t make a sale to the PNP because I won’t be able to help you. And you can’t get the units. That’s what FG wants.”
When De Vera broached the possibility of two brand new units, Po reportedly said, “I can’t do anything, tsong.” But he promised to try to convince Arroyo, according to the Maptra president.
Lionair is the exclusive distributor of Robinson helicopters in the country, and Maptra is its marketing agent in the bidding for helicopters at the PNP.
On paper, Lionair was the registered owner of five Robinson R-44 Raven I helicopters, including the three units that were later sold to the PNP.
Arroyo allegedly paid a total of $1.423 million for the five helicopters for the campaign of his wife, then President Macapagal-Arroyo, in the 2004 presidential election.
But it was actually Arroyo who owned the aircraft as he kept “blank deeds of sale” as proof of purchase of the aircraft, according to Po.
‘Invitation’ to FG
Sen. Panfilo Lacson asked the blue ribbon committee to “invite” Arroyo “since his name has been mentioned several times” during the testimonies of Po and De Vera.
Sen. Teofisto Guingona III, the committee chair, said Arroyo “cannot avoid testifying and there is no valid excuse why he cannot.”
De Vera said that in at least four meetings, Po consistently referred to Arroyo as FG whenever he inquired about the status of Maptra’s efforts to sell the used helicopters to the PNP in 2009.
De Vera said Maptra submitted to the PNP on June 15, 2009, a proposal to sell one brand new R-44 police helicopter and two preowned standard helicopters.
A rival bidder, Beeline, quoted P104,987,000 for its set of helicopters, while Maptra gave a price of P104,985,000 for its units. The PNP chose Maptra’s offer.
Po said he delivered $700,000 in cash to 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.
De Vera said he was constantly in touch with Po in 2009 when the PNP was looking for bids at the time for six helicopters.
In March 2009, De Vera said Po was already aware of a negotiated bidding in the PNP for three helicopters. This was after two failed bidding for the purchase of six helicopters.
De Vera said that during a visit to the Lionair office on March 18, 2009, he asked Po for a quotation for one brand new fully equipped Raven I and two brand new standard Raven I helicopters.
Five days later, De Vera said Lionair submitted a proposal to sell three preowned Raven I helicopters.
De Vera said he confronted Po about the proposal saying the PNP bids and awards committee specifically wanted brand new units.
De Vera quoted Po’s answer in Filipino: “I have instructions from FG that you sell and deliver those (preowned choppers) to the PNP. That’s what FG told me. That he wants to sell the three helicopters he owns.”
De Vera said he eventually received a proposal to sell from Lionair specifying one brand new and two used helicopters.
In July 2009, De Vera said he received instructions from a certain Ging of the PNP bids and awards committee to proceed to Camp Crame.
‘Order from FG’
De Vera said Ging showed him a copy of a supply contract that indicated that Maptra would supply the PNP with brand new units.
De Vera said he pointed out the error in the contract to Ging, who only insisted that he sign it since it was the one already prepared.
De Vera said Ging advised him to return the following day to receive his copy that had been signed by PNP officials.
Worried about the contract’s contents, De Vera said he went to the Lionair office afterward and told Po that the paper specified brand new units.
Po reportedly said: “I already told you not to worry because whatever you will deliver, no one will ask questions. They will accept the units because an order from FG was issued on what should be done.”
De Vera said that Po even demanded a huge cut from the profit he would derive from the deal.
“I know that you will also earn from the two preowned Raven I. So give me 50 percent from your net [income] for my extra effort in the transaction,” Po reportedly said.
De Vera said Po even described him as too skittish (masyado kang nerbiyoso). “I’ll take care of you (Ako bahala sa iyo),” he quoted Po as telling him.
While De Vera narrated these conversations, Po was seen smiling through pursed lips. He sometimes shook his head, straightened his tie or looked at a distance.
Eventually, De Vera said he delivered one brand new and two used helicopters. He received P3.5 million in check on April 15, 2010.
In July 2009, the PNP issued a supply contract and a notice to proceed. On Sept. 22, 2009, then PNP Director General Jesus Verzosa signed a purchase order to indicate that the sale would push through.
De Vera said that when he went to the Lionair office to report to Po, the businessman showed him two helicopters in the hangar that displayed serial numbers different from the one Maptra indicated in its bid.
De Vera said he told Po that this could be a problem because the serial numbers of the units to be delivered were different.
Po reportedly said: “Didn’t I tell you that whatever you will deliver, the PNP will accept it? I’ll take care of you. I also told you before that FG had issued instructions to them [PNP].”
The used helicopters were delivered to the PNP in September 2009. De Vera said an inspection team flew the units and returned to the Lionair hangar.
One month later, De Vera said he called PNP Director Romeo Hilomen, a member of the PNP negotiation committee, to follow up on the 50 percent remaining balance for the choppers.
Hilomen reportedly told De Vera in Filipino “to stop calling (Interior) Secretary (Ronaldo) Puno because we are being pressured. I know for a fact that those helicopters are not new. I don’t like that!”
De Vera said he told Hilomen that he did not know Puno and even explained that he did not want to deliver used helicopters. “But I was trapped in this transaction and I can’t do anything,” De Vera said.
Senators confronted Hilomen about this exchange. The PNP official said he could not recall the exchange.
De Vera said he received the balance of P49,680,401.80 on April 2010. After collecting the amount, he sent a check for P3.5 million to Po that the businessman had demanded as his share for his efforts in closing the sale.
De Vera said that a week after Lacson delivered a speech in Camp Crame exposing the sale of used helicopters, PNP Director George Piano wrote him a letter demanding the delivery of two brand new units to replace the old ones.
De Vera said Piano gave him 10 days to make the delivery or “the PNP shall take the next appropriate legal step.”
A subpoena from the PNP Criminal Investigation and Detection Group’s Anti-Fraud and Commercial Crimes Division followed.
De Vera said his wife and two employees also received subpoenas from the CIDG.
Po, in his testimony, said Arroyo wanted to sell four used helicopters as early as 2006, two years after they were used extensively during his wife’s presidential campaign.
At that time, Po said Arroyo wanted to sell the four units for $350,000 each.
The businessman told Arroyo at the time that his asking price was “on the high side” since the units he wanted to sell were preowned.
“But FG said ‘that was the price he was willing to sell’ the helicopters,” Po said, reading from his affidavit.