Thursday, May 21, 2015

DND execs fail to convince senators that P1.2-B chopper deal above board

From InterAksyon (May 21): DND execs fail to convince senators that P1.2-B chopper deal above board

Top Department of National Defense officials on Wednesday failed to convince members of the Senate panel that the procurement of the P1.2-billion helicopter deal between the DND and the joint venture of Rice Aircraft Services Inc. (RACI) of the United States and Eagle Copter of Canada last year was above board.

At the continuation of the hearing by Senate Blue Ribbon Committee chaired by Senator Teofisto “TG” Guingona III as regards the transaction, DND assistant secretary Patrick Velez admitted the contract was awarded to RACI despite being disqualified three times by the department’s own Bids and Awards Committee (BAC).

“Yun na nga ang nakapagtataka, three times nang na-disqualify, pagkatapos sa RACI pa rin nila (DND) ibinigay ang kontrata,” said Sen. Joseph Victor Ejercito, one of the three senators who had filed a resolution calling on the Senate panel to probe the scandal that first broke out two months ago.

According to Velez, when the procurement project under the Armed Forces’ modernization program finally got underway in 2012, the BAC had to disqualify RACI, the first time for its “failure” to submit even “basic documentary requirements”, the second time due to the more serious offense of “falsification”, and the final time for again failing to submit basic documentary requirements.

But according to Rhodora Alvarez, an employee at the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) who blew the whistle on the scandal using the alias ‘Joey,’ RACI still ended up getting the contract because it has been “tailor-fitted” for RACI “from the very start”.

Appearing for the first time in an official investigation, Alvarez said she ended up “coordinating” the procurement of the helicopters for use in “combat mission” by the Philippine Air Force beginning in late 2013 after RACI’s Philippine representative, ‘Tac Nguyen,’ went into hiding after being hunted by the US government for “misrepresenting” himself as an “official” of the US Department of State.

She said she got to know Nguyen after the latter sought her help in getting their clearance from the BIR, which is among the documentary requirements by the DND.

RACI owner Robert Rice, who was also present during the hearing, confirmed that Nguyen is now under detention in the US for the offense, adding that Nguyen’s act has “something to do” with the company’s transaction with the PAF.

As “coordinator,” Alvarez said she was privy to all the details and every step of the negotiation for the delivery by RACI of supposedly 21 “refurbished” ‘UH-1D’ helicopters that, she noted, was not the original objective of the project.

She averred further that the changes in the contract and the many violations by RACI of the country’s procurement law during its implementation were done with the knowledge not only of Velez, but also, of undersecretary of finance and munitions Fernando Manalo and DND Secretary Voltaire Gazmin.

Alvarez said Manalo had represented the interest of RACI in a previous transaction with the DND, a claim that Manalo denied at the end of the hearing.

Guingona also asked Alvarez to repeat in a sworn statement what she knows about the scandal as her allegations against the DND top brass were “very serious”, Guingona noted.

“We asked her to submit a comprehensive affidavit, hindi iyong pa-chop-chop lang,” Guingona said

Guingona said he would also be “arranging” for the physical security of Alvarez who also bared the alleged threats on her person since she first bared details of the scandal to the media.

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