Mike Arroyo’s bookkeeper detained for telling ‘lies’
A former bookkeeper of a company owned by the Arroyos was detained on Monday in the Senate for telling “lies” before the blue ribbon committee that is looking into the sale of secondhand helicopters passed off as brand-new to the Philippine National Police.
Incredulous over Rowena del Rosario’s “lies,” 12 members of the committee, chaired by Sen. Teofisto Guingona III, cited her for contempt and issued orders for her detention after a caucus on Monday afternoon.
Del Rosario was still in the Senate building in Pasay City when the order was issued and was subsequently held at the Office of the Sergeant at Arms at the basement of the Senate building.
“The judgment is that she is answering evasively. It’s not believable. Obviously the senators did not accept it,” Guingona told reporters after the hearing.
Del Rosario told the committee that Negros Occidental Rep. Ignacio “Iggy” Arroyo (then LTA Inc. president) paid at least P18 million in cash for the lease of helicopters from Lionair Inc. but the transactions were not recorded in the books of LTA Inc.
Del Rosario, a bookkeeper of LTA from 2000 until July this year, painted a picture that Ignacio ran the LTA and was in charge of leasing the helicopters.
But Edith Solano-Juguan, a marketing executive of Lionair Inc., told senators that when she went to collect the payments at the LTA building in Makati City once a month, she often saw Jose Miguel “Mike” Arroyo and rarely caught a glimpse of Ignacio.
Sen. Panfilo Lacson claimed that two of the three helicopters sold to the PNP in 2009 were preowned by Mike.
Other witnesses earlier said that the two helicopters were part of the five choppers bought by Mike in 2004 for the campaign of his wife, then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, in the presidential election.
Ignacio, however, recently claimed that it was he who signed a lease contract that allowed LTA Inc. to use the helicopters for two months in 2004.
Del Rosario, who was appointed by then President Macapagal-Arroyo to the board of Pag-Ibig Fund, testified that she turned over payments for operational expenses to Lionair when told by Ignacio. She said she never asked questions.
“If there’s a billing from Lionair, I pay,” she told the committee. She said would phone Ignacio when the billing arrived, and that her boss would arrive carrying the cash.
Lionair Inc. is the exclusive distributor of US-based Robinson Helicopter Corp.
Del Rosario, however, said that she did not record these transactions in the company books since the payments did not come from the company accounts, and hence were “unrelated” to the company. She said she handed all the receipts to Ignacio.
Guingona wondered aloud why she did not record the transaction. “Your practice as a bookkeeper is puzzling,” he said.
Hearing Del Rosario’s statement, Lacson then moved for the committee to subpoena LTA documents over the lease of the helicopters, including the “book of accounts.”
Del Rosario’s lawyer, Nunilo Marapao, decried the committee’s order arresting and detaining her as unfair.
“If you read the order, it is unfair because in the first place, she never evaded the questions. She tried as much as possible to answer the questions of the senators to the best of her knowledge. She cannot invent answers just to please them,” Marapao said in a statement.
In its order citing Del Rosario in contempt and ordering her arrest and detention, the committee said she testified “falsely” and “evasively,” hence impeding and obstructing the inquiry.
Liver, heart ailments
Ignacio, who has sought treatment in London for a liver ailment, balked at the committee’s invitation for him to appear at the hearing.
Dr. Manuel Chua Chiaco of Philippine Heart Center said Mike would be put in danger if he was forced to attend the hearing because of a serious heart ailment.
According to Lionair, it collected some P18 million in operational expenses from LTA from 2004 to 2011.
When questioned over LTA’s wire transfer of $500,000 to Robinson Helicopter Corp. in the United States as down payment for five helicopters, Del Rosario initially said she could not recall the transfer.
Guingona remarked: “You can’t remember? That’s not an ordinary amount.” He said she could be cited for contempt.
Lacson then cautioned Del Rosario: “If you insist on fooling this committee, we can at any time cite you in contempt. You think we are fools here. There are some, but not all.”
Hearing this and after consulting her counsel, Del Rosario said she remembered that Ignacio had once instructed her to remit a similar amount of $500,000 as “advance rental” to Robinson Corp. for helicopters.
Like his colleagues who believed that the amount was a down payment for the purchase of the helicopters, not advance rental, Lacson moved to cite her in contempt. Sen. Jinggoy Estrada seconded the motion.
The senators said it was obvious she was covering up for Ignacio.
Lionair’s general manager, Renato Sia, said Mike’s claims that he did not own the helicopters and that these were merely leased from Lionair were false.
“It’s the First Gentleman who is the owner of the choppers,” he said.
Sia said Lionair did not receive some P9.2 million from LTA for the lease of the helicopters, a fact that did not surprise Sen. Franklin Drilon who said that LTA’s income statement in 2004 did not mention such payments to Lionair.
Sia also said that he signed a blank deed of sale and a blank deed of assignment that were later attached to the agreement.
At the hearing, notary lawyer Lope Velasco said he notarized the aircraft fleet service agreement between LTA and Lionair in 2004 without requiring Ignacio’s presence and asking for his residence certificate.
He explained that the presence of parties in the deeds of lease was not mandatory, prompting Drilon and Guingona to say that this violated notary laws.
“I considered the regularity of the agreement so the presence of the parties was not mandatory,” he said in reply to a question by Sen. Aquilino Pimentel III.
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