‘Jose Miguel Arroyo owned helicopters’
Two five-year old helicopters sold as brand new to the Philippine National Police in 2009 were among the five choppers that then First Gentleman Jose Miguel “Mike” Arroyo acquired for the campaign of his wife, then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, in the 2004 presidential election.
This was disclosed by a businessman, who was privy to the sale of the helicopters to Mike Arroyo in late 2003. The businessman is scheduled to appear as a witness at a hearing of the Senate blue ribbon committee on Tuesday.
The Inquirer tried to contact Sunday night Raul Lambino, lawyer and spokesperson of the Arroyos, to get his side but did not get any response.
Senate President Pro Tempore Jinggoy Estrada said the witness got in touch with him last week and presented documents, including copies of the record of payments made by Arroyo from December 2003 to March 2004.
Estrada said the witness, a well-known personality in the aviation industry, told him that the five helicopters—all Robinson R44 Raven Is with Series Nos. 1370 to 1374—were purchased for use in the 2004 election campaign of then President Arroyo.
Initially, the witness said Mike Arroyo only wanted to lease helicopters from Lionair, exclusive distributor of Robinson helicopters in the country.
However, Mike Arroyo was told that all Robinson units at the time were already out on loan to his wife’s political rival, Fernando Poe Jr.
Documents shown to the Inquirer indicated that Mike Arroyo paid a deposit of $95,000 each for the five units on Dec. 11, 2003, for a total of $475,000. The net balance of $948,025 was paid from March 2 to March 9, 2004. A total of $1,423,025 was paid to Lionair for the five helicopters.
Estrada said all helicopters were paid for in cash that a Lionair representative would collect from the LTA Building, which belongs to Arroyo’s family, on Perea Street in Makati City.
Estrada said the witness claimed that in early 2004, the helicopters were sent via air cargo to Asian Spirit, an airline company in the Clark Freeport Zone in Pampanga.
“He (the witness) said this was done because Asian Spirit was a locator in Clark, meaning it can receive goods without paying taxes and the new owner of the choppers at that time wanted to avoid paying them,” Estrada said in an interview.
“At that time, Asian Spirit and Lionair were owned by one person. But Asian Spirit has since been sold to Zest Air,” the senator said.
Investment banker Noel Oñate sold Asian Spirit for P1 billion in 2008 to AMY Holdings of Alfredo Yao, owner of juice maker Zest-O. A year later, Oñate led a group that acquired the preneed unit Pacific Plans Inc. from the Yuchengcos for P250 million.
Estrada added that the witness also pointed out the speed by which the helicopters were delivered. It usually takes six months to deliver a brand new helicopter, according to the witness.
“But he said that in the case of (Mike) Arroyo, this was expedited to three months only. From the time the deposit was made (in December) until full payment (in March),” the senator said.
Supt. Claudio Gaspar, a licensed pilot of the PNP, said under oath last week that he was familiar with two of the helicopters owned by Mike Arroyo. This is because Gaspar frequently ferried Mike Arroyo and his son, Juan Miguel “Mikey” Arroyo, from 2004 until the two units were sold to the PNP.
The two units were sold along with a brand new Robinson R44 Raven II to the PNP in 2009 for P105 million. Senators have raised a howl over the transaction since the PNP paid the full price for the old units passed off as brand new.
Gaspar said that while he was aware that the units were old, he did not notify anyone in the PNP about it. He explained that he was present during the inspection “to assist” and not to warn anyone of the real condition of the units.
Gaspar, in his testimony, recalled seeing “PNP markings” being painted on the 5-year old helicopters before the inspection by a PNP team.
2 others unsold
Sen. Panfilo Lacson, in an ambush interview, said he received reports that two of the helicopters owned by Arroyo were still languishing in the Lionair hangar.
A fifth chopper, Gaspar told the Senate, crashed in 2004. Its passenger at the time, Ilocos Sur Gov. Chavit Singson, survived.
“The two unsold helicopters are still in the hangar,” Lacson said. “It is now Mike Arroyo’s problem how to get them. Because the helicopters have already been identified through their serial numbers, who’s going to buy them now?”
Lacson added that he also got word that when the helicopters arrived in Clark, “you’ll be amazed at how powerful the person who owned them was. They arrived on a Friday, disassembled and quickly assembled. By Tuesday, there were already certificates from (Air Transportation Office).”
Lacson said insiders in the airline industry disclosed that registration of a new unit usually takes two weeks to a month.
Estrada, in the interview, said Mike Arroyo supposedly made money on the helicopters during his ownership.
“There were revenue flights when the helicopters were chartered to other parties. However, the witness said these parties were known to FG (a popular reference to Arroyo),” he said.
The witness allegedly told Estrada that Mike Arroyo kept “blank deeds of sale” as proof of purchase of the helicopters.
Responding to a text message on Sunday, Sen. Teofisto Guingona III said Mike Arroyo could not invoke private citizenship should he be charged with violation of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act for selling secondhand helicopters at brand new prices to the government.
“Any person who causes undue injury to government through a manifestly gross and unjust situation will have accountability,” said Guingona, the chair of the Senate blue ribbon committee.
“Let’s not presume his guilt at the moment but he cannot invoke that he is a private citizen in this case,” the he added.
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