PNP execs pass the buck on choppers | Inquirer News

PNP execs pass the buck on choppers

By: - Reporter / @KatyYam
/ 05:02 AM July 29, 2011

Like airmen doing evasive maneuvers, they went around in circles.

Senators looking into the purchase of two used helicopters by the Philippine National Police in 2009 accused its officials of giving them the runaround to cover up for parties who sold the aircraft as brand new.

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“If you notice, none among the officers responsible for the procurement of the helicopters admitted they bought secondhand units,” Sen. Teofisto Guingona, the chair of the blue ribbon committee, told the Inquirer after the nearly five-hour hearing.

Of the officers grilled, only Supt. Claudio Gaspar, who piloted the two helicopters on numerous occasions for then First Gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo and his son, then Pampanga Rep. Juan Miguel “Mikey” Arroyo, said he was aware that the PNP bought helicopters that were already at least five years old at the time.

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Gaspar recalled that from 2004 until the two units were sold to the PNP in 2009, he ferried the Arroyo father and son separately on private trips around Central and Southern Luzon.

“Congressman Mikey” frequented a resort called “Mr. Golf” in Pampanga province before heading back to Malacañang, while the elder Arroyo and some guests once used the choppers to get to Canlubang, Laguna province, from Tagaytay City, he said.

Gaspar said he was present when members of the PNP inspection committee examined the two helicopters before they were delivered to the agency in November 2009.

But under questioning by Sen. Panfilo Lacson, Gaspar clarified that he wasn’t a member of the committee and that he was only present at the turnover to assist as the pilot “of one of the choppers frequently used by the First Family.”

‘Knew all along’

Gaspar later said he “knew all along” that the choppers were secondhand but kept it to himself since no one had asked him.

“At my level, I know they were used helicopters. Your Honor, no one asked me whether I knew that. I did not attend the (procurement) meetings. I was not asked and I was not a member of either the negotiating team nor the bids and awards committee,” Gaspar added.

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“I only heard the PNP wanted to buy helicopters. After the negotiation, I saw one of the helicopters being painted with PNP markings, when it was previously white,” he explained.

Before the purchase, “I only knew the PNP would buy helicopters. Whether brand new or secondhand, I was not privy to it. All I know was that the units (I flew) were secondhand,” Gaspar said.

He also said he was told that a company called Lionair owned by a “Mr. Archibald” previously owned the helicopters.

Passing the buck

For the rest of the hearing, though, PNP officers responsible for the purchase either washed their hands off the issue or passed the buck.

PNP Director George Piano, the head of the inspection committee at the time of the purchase, maintained that the requirements for the procurement “did not specify that it should be brand new.”

But Guingona snapped: “But the supply contract said it should be brand new! The notice to proceed issued by the office of the PNP chief said it should be brand new. You were the head of the inspection committee!”

Piano countered that the specifications issued by the National Police Commission (Napolcom), on the hand, “did not state that it should be brand new.”

As long as the conditions of the units were “in accordance with Napolcom specifications” at the time of the inspection, there was nothing irregular about it, he said.

Asked later by senators to explain his absence during the inspection of the two helicopters, Piano explained that “we (the committee) rely on technical experts.”

“But have you not heard of command responsibility?” Guingona shot back.

Senior Supt. Luis Saligumba, another member of the inspection team, said he also signed the report despite his absence during the actual examination.

A third member, Senior Supt. Edgar Paatan, admitted signing the inspection report but claimed that he did not have “the capacity to determine a brand new helicopter from secondhand.”

Pressured to buy?

Throughout the hearing, Piano kept referring to a certain Ma. Josefina Recometa who, he said, led the team that inspected the choppers.

At one point, Lacson cited a proposal submitted by Manila Aerospace Trading (Maptra) on June 15, 2009, indicating it intended to sell one brand new helicopter and two “service-center conditioned” units.

Due diligence, the senator stressed, should have made the PNP realize early on that Maptra intended to sell it two secondhand helicopters.

“I hear some very powerful persons have been identified as the original owners. Were you pressured to buy (the helicopters)?” Lacson asked PNP Director Luizo Ticman, head of the negotiation committee.

Instead of giving a direct answer, Ticman said a technical working group could better respond to the question.

“You guys are in deep trouble,” Sen. Franklin Drilon warned. “Unless you say who compelled or ordered you to do so, if you insist that everything is in order. Think about it.”

Lacson’s diligence

Lacson said his own due diligence showed that one of the used helicopters offered by Maptra and identified as Series 1370 already clocked in 367.36 hours of flying time. The other unit, Series 1371, had 481 hours.

“And yet the PNP accepted two different units, Series 1372 with 498 hours flying time; and Series 1374 with 536 hours. This is worse. They were already selling you old units and, still, they gave you even older units,” Lacson said.

Ticman later admitted that even as head of the negotiating panel, he had no capacity to determine whether the helicopters delivered were brand new or not.

“But after logging in more than 360 hours, is that still brand new? Can you not use your common sense?” Guingona asked.

“Maybe that’s preowned but that’s outside my competence,” Ticman said, apparently still evasive.

Sen. Sergio Osmeña III asked the officers why the three helicopters still fetched P105 million even as two were already five years old at the time of the negotiations in mid-2009.

“The technical working group and the bids and awards committee have roles to play but they are not concerned with technical matters,” said Chief Supt. Herold Ubalde, a member of the negotiation committee.

Ubalde then referred Osmeña’s question to Senior Supt. Job Nolan Antonio, who then said the price proposal “comes from the end user.”

Obvious coverup

“Nobody seems to be responsible,” Drilon complained in media interviews after the hearing. “Obviously there’s an effort to cover up.”

“Piano is an indispensable official here because he was the one who accepted the helicopters, notwithstanding the fact that it was very clear the helicopters were not brand new as specified in the supplier agreement,” Drilon explained.

“Nobody can answer in the entire organization who should have accepted the helicopters as brand new! Piano denies it was his duty to certify them as brand new yet he knew (they were) supposed to be brand new because he was a witness to the supply contract,” the senator added.

“The overpricing is obvious. All this is an attempt to overprice. Naghuhugas kamay silang lahat (They’re all washing their hands off the matter),” the senator fumed.

Guingona noted that the procurement “could not have been done by just one person. This was a clear attempt to defraud the government and the people. I don’t believe niloko sila, nagpaloko sila (they let themselves be fooled).”

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TAGS: Former First Gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo, Helicopters, Juan Miguel “Mikey” Arroyo, Philippine National Police (PNP), Supt. Claudio Gaspar
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