THE Philippine Air Force (PAF) leadership was aware of problems concerning acquisition of the 21 UH-1 helicopters and had rejected most of the amendments to the Terms of Reference (TOR) requested by the supplier, including those that pertain to night vision goggle (NVG) compatibility and the use of VHF FM radios.
A report by the Technical Working Group (TWG) headed by Brig. Gen. Conrado Parra dated July 7, 2014 and addressed to the “Commanding General, PAF” indicated that Rice Aircraft Services Inc. (RASI) the supplier of the questioned helicopters, sought to amend 22 provisions in the TOR which, sources said, was awkward because the contract was awarded to it on the condition that it would deliver what was required under the TOR.
Parra’s report also declared as “NOT ACCEPTABLE” some of the requested revisions while it declared that technical specifications listed in the contract should be followed to the letter.
The helicopters should be NVG-capable “inside and out” but the supplier claimed it could only make the aircraft cockpit NVG-capable.
“NVG compatibility does not only cover the cockpit but also the exterior, which refers to the NVG position light of the aircraft,” Parra said in his report.
With regard to the “VHF FM remove” request, the Air Force official replied: “NOT ACCEPTABLE. This component cannot be removed from the requirement as it is essential to the end-user especially during communications with ground troops.”
“Tingnan mo yung request ni (RASI president Robert) Rice regarding radio, gustong tanggalin yung VHF FM kasi walang ganyan ang UH 1D ni Rice. Yan ba ang latest and top-of-the-line na sinasabi [Look at the request of Rice regarding radio, he wants to remove the VHF FM because that is not in the UH 1D of Rice. Is that the latest and top-of-the-line that they are talking about]?” a source of The Manila Times who was privy to the allegedly anomalous deal said.
Also, the supplier said it can deliver “M23 gun mounts separate from the aircraft” when all the helicopters should have gun mounts when they are to be delivered.
“The TWG maintains that every unit [helicopter]should be delivered in accordance with the Technical Specifications in the [TOR]. Hence, all helicopters must have gun mounts installed when delivered in order for [them]to be accepted,” the report said.
Despite the July report, the supplier was still given leeway to deliver the units even when they do not conform with the TOR.
Department of National Defense (DND) insiders claimed a senior official was manipulating the flow of the contract and the deliveries of the questioned aircraft.
“Be reminded that this contract is part of the Armed Forces modernization program and the reason why it became an emergency procurement [is that]our troops badly needed helicopters [that]could have been used in the Mamasapano incident,” The Times source said.
“I pity the Philippine Air Force [PAF]. The officials involved already raked in money and what the Air Force got were defective equipment. The PAF could not do anything and just accept what the DND bought for them,” the source added.
The Air Force has accepted eight UH-1D helicopters delivered by RASI and its Canadian partner, Eagle Copters Ltd.
Recently, PAF officials demonstrated to the media that two of the units delivered could fly.
“Tingnan natin yung units. Hindi issue dito kung lumilipad o hindi. Natural lang na lumilipad yan kasi helicopter yan at hindi naman barko.
Pero lumilipad nga bang lahat yung walo? Nasaan yung walo [Let us look at the units. It is not an issue whether the helicopters can fly. Of course, they can because they are helicopters, not ships. But what about the other eight? Where are they?” The Times source asked.
On Wednesday, Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin ordered “partial termination” of the P1.2-billion UH-1 helicopter procurement contract because of the firm’s failure to deliver the ordered units within “180 days upon the opening of the letter of credit.”
In a Notice of Termination sent to Robert Rice dated March 25, Gazmin told the supplier that the project is being “partially terminated for exceeding the 10 percent maximum liquidated damages.”
“You are hereby ordered to submit a verified position paper stating why the contract should not be terminated within seven days upon receipt hereof. Failure to show cause within the provided period, either by inaction or by default, shall cause the issuance of an order terminating the contract,” the DND chief warned.
The UH-1Ds made by the defunct Dornier of Germany were supposed to be delivered on September 23, 2014, the 180th day after the opening of the Letter of Credit on March 27, 2014.
“You have delivered the UH-1 units in tranches and as of the date of this notice, only eight out of the 21 UH-1 helicopters including 21 sets of gun mounts have been accepted by the [acceptance committee],” Gazmin said.
When reached for comment, “Joey,” the whistleblower who first revealed to The Times irregularities involved in the helicopter procurement, claimed that while the move was a “welcome development,” it should not be a reason to allow the officials behind the scam to go scot-free.
“They should look deep into the deal. On-time delivery is not the only issue here. Look at how money changed hands. There was an overpayment done in the six helicopters delivered. I’m not sure if Secretary Gazmin knows this,” the source said.