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P1.26B chopper deal ‘rotten’

/ 12:21 AM June 09, 2015

If the members of the Senate blue ribbon committee would just lend their ears to a whistleblower, Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin and Undersecretary Fernando Manalo could be charged with plunder for the purchase of refurbished helicopters worth P1.26 billion for the use of the Philippine Air Force (PAF).

Rhodora Alvarez, an examiner at the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR), described the sale as a “rotten” deal.

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She said she attended the blue ribbon committee hearing on the deal but instead of hearing from her first, the committee interviewed the government officials she accused of wrongdoing in the P1.26-billion deal.

Alvarez said that when her turn came, she was not given enough time to expound on her accusations.

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The deal involved buying helicopter scraps from Germany, shipping them to the United States for reconstruction and refurbishing, and then sending them over to Manila to be used by the PAF, Alvarez said.

Of the 21 choppers, seven have been delivered to Manila but only one is flying, she said.

The helicopters are UH-1D, 1968 models and similar to the US UH-1H, popularly known as the Huey, but the instructions for their use are written in German, she said.

“Our Air Force pilots will have to learn German in order to fly the helicopters because the nomenclature for the instruments is in German,”

Alvarez said.

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In his 2014 State of the Nation Address (Sona), President Noy boasted that 21 state-of-the-art helicopters were about to be delivered for the use of the PAF in its combat missions.

What the President apparently didn’t know, Alvarez said, is that the “state-of-the–art” flying machines were built in the backyard of Robert Rice, owner of Rice Aircraft, reportedly a run-of-the-mill US company.

The President was not told that Rice failed twice in the public bidding conducted by the Department of National Defense (DND), but the American got the contract that was tailor-made for him.

The DND bids and awards committee was headed by Undersecretary Manalo who, Alvarez claimed, had prior negotiations with Rice to bag the P1.26-billion refurbished helicopter deal.

I could be mistaken but I was made to believe that under Commission on Audit (COA) rules, the government does not buy second-hand equipment. The government can accept hand-me-downs from foreign governments, where there is no money involved. This makes the deal illegal as per COA rules.

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When the helicopters arrived in the country, the engines were detached from the hulls and were reattached at the PAF hangar at the former Clark Air Base, said Alvarez.

The PAF inspection and acceptance committee refused to accept the helicopters because they were defective, she added.

Some provisions in the purchase contract were not met, such as self-sealing fuel tanks which automatically close when hit by a bullet, bulletproof seats and night-capability flying.

But Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Delgado, PAF chief, eventually accepted the choppers apparently under pressure from Secretary Gazmin, Alvarez said.

Alvarez said she was supposed to receive P37.8 million from the P1.26 billion deal as a 3-percent commission, but she turned it down and instead exposed the deal she describes as “rotten.”

“I don’t want to be responsible for the deaths of our Air Force pilots,” she said.

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TAGS: chopper deal, Fernando Manalo, Helicopters, PAF, Philippine Air Force, Rhodora Alvarez, Voltaire Gazmin
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