Puno faces grilling over choppers
It’s former Interior Secretary Ronaldo Puno’s turn in the hot seat when the Senate blue ribbon committee holds its fourth hearing this morning on the Philippine National Police’s purchase of second-hand helicopters that were passed off as brand new.
The senators are expected to grill Puno specifically on why changes were made to the specifications for the helicopters the PNP had ordered to bolster anti-crime efforts in 2009.
Sen. Franklin Drilon provided the Inquirer with several documents that suggested that the PNP’s Uniform and Equipment Standardization Board (UESB) amended the specs in 2008 to favor the Robinson R44 Raven I helicopters offered by Manila Aerospace Products Trading Inc. (Maptra).
Puno, as chair of the National Police Commission at that time, signed Resolution 2008-260 that resolved to “adopt and prescribe” the changes recommended by the UESB.
Replying to several text queries, Drilon said he wanted Puno to explain why the specifications for the helicopters were “apparently tailor-fitted” to accommodate Maptra’s Raven helicopters.
Sen. Panfilo Lacson was the first to point out that the two Raven I helicopters that Maptra delivered to the PNP in late 2009 were used units. Only the third chopper, a Robinson R44 Raven II, was brand new.
“Under the law, the specifications must be stated in general terms so as not to favor a specific brand. But the specs were altered to favor the Raven helicopters that coincidentally belonged to (former first gentleman) Mike Arroyo,” Drilon said.
Businessman Archibald Po, owner of Lionair Inc., told the blue ribbon panel earlier that he had maintained five Raven I helicopters for Arroyo from 2004 to 2009.
All five were purchased in 2004 for use of presidential candidate Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in her campaign.
Two of the choppers found their way to the PNP. The Senate probe has shown so far that Maptra, acting as an agent for Lionair, sold the five-year old units to the police after two failed biddings.
Maptra manager Hilario de Vera declared under oath that he made it clear to the PNP that the two Raven Is were second hand.
He added during his testimony that Po, on several occasions, pressured him to sell the units at the behest of “FG,” a known reference to (first gentleman) Arroyo.
Po kept shaking his head when De Vera made this claim before the senators.
Drilon told reporters last week that the blue ribbon committee had enough evidence to dispute claims made by Arroyo’s brother, Negros Rep. Ignacio “Iggy” Arroyo, that it was he who signed a lease contract that allowed their family company LTA Inc. to use the five choppers for two months in 2004.
Lacson, in an ambush interview last week, noted discrepancies between the dates of notarization of Iggy’s lease agreement (March 16, 2004) and the date of issue of the residence certificate of Lionair corporate secretary Renato Sia (April 2, 2004).
Lacson also questioned why Sia’s signature appeared only on the last page of the lease agreement “when standard procedure requires that all the pages be signed by all parties concerned, including the witnesses.”
The senator noted, however, that the “most telling discrepancy” was that the second and third batches of helicopters arrived on March 17 and 24 when the agreement was supposedly signed March 16, 2004.
Drilon said the evidence gathered so far was “sufficient to recommend an antigraft case against Mike Arroyo. The connivance between the PNP and Arroyo would support this charge.”
Joker cautious peers
Sen. Joker Arroyo cautioned the blue ribbon committee against an aggressive investigation that could distress resource persons.
Arroyo earlier noted that former defense and energy secretary Angelo Reyes committed suicide apparently due to the pressure he faced while testifying before the same panel on irregularities in the disbursement of military funds.
“Reyes committed suicide because of the hearings,” he said in an interview yesterday.
Arroyo also said the recent suicide of lawyer Benjamin Pinpin was apparently due to his fears of a public grilling after he signed an affidavit implicating innocent parties to a behest loan by the Development Bank of the Philippines.
Arroyo said that if a Senate committee submits a report recommending the prosecution of specific persons, the Office of the Ombudsman or any court tasked to investigate the same would still conduct its own probe.
“So what is the value of a committee report? It’s valueless! It can be a guide but any fiscal would still (conduct) a new hearing before filing a case. Isn’t it very demeaning for the Senate to do reports but no value (is given to it) when it comes to filing cases? The investigating bodies like the Ombudsman would just do it again,” Senator Arroyo said.
Drilon was apparently unconvinced by the argument. He said the investigations were part of the Senate’s oversight functions.