A senior official of the Department of National Defense (DND) who attempted to rush the delivery of 21 refurbished UH-1 helicopters from a “favored” American bidder by getting the US Air Force into the picture was on Sunday tagged as the brains behind the controversial deal.
The DND official got the US Air Force involved on the pretext that the aircraft will be used for relief and rehabilitation operations in areas devastated by Super Typhoon Yolanda in November 2013, a source told The Manila Times.
The source, who wanted to be identified as “Joey,” claimed that DND Undersecretary Fernando Manalo was the “author” of the deal because he knew from the very start that Rice Aircraft Services was going to acquire the helicopters from Germany.
The source added that although a notice dated March 25, 2015 showed that eight units were delivered, only seven were actually shipped.
“Seven units pa lang ang na turn over sa PAF. Pinapalusot pa ni (Defense Secretary Voltaire) Gazmin yung isa pa kaya eight ang inilagay. Kasi mas maraming units na nabayaran, mas malaki ang commission na masisingil (Only seven units have been turned over to PAF. Gazmin is working for the delivery of another unit because the more units that were paid, the bigger the commission),” the source said.
In a letter dated November 27, 2013 and addressed to the US Secretary of State through the US Ambassador in Manila, Manalo reiterated his request “to have the most number of helicopters delivered at the soonest possible time to augment the air assets being used in the relief and rehabilitation efforts for the victims of the recent super typhoon that struck the provinces in the Central Philippines.”
Manalo signed the letter, a copy of which was obtained by The Manila Times, in his capacity as chairman of the Special Bids and Awards Committee 1. The letter was coursed through Col. Rocky L. Carter, chief of the Joint US Military Assistance Group (Jusmag) based in Camp Aguinaldo in Quezon City.
Interestingly, Manalo kept mentioning that the deliveries would involve “UH-1H” choppers. The negotiated contract, sealed with Rice Aircraft Services Inc. (RASI) and its Canadian partner, Eagle Copters Ltd., was for the delivery of “UH-1D” helicopters that were manufactured by the defunct Dornier of Germany.
“In the letter dated November 15, 2013, this department requested for [sic]your assistance in facilitating the immediate delivery of available refurbished UH-1H helicopters, through the US Air Force, in the event that the declared lowest calculated responsive bidder will be from any of the four US companies who signified to compete for the project,” Manalo said.
The DND official who, according to informed sources had a previous engagement with RASI involving a Philippine Air Force helicopter bearing “tail number 122,” followed up his “presumptive” letter with the information that “On November 21, 2013, the Joint Venture of US Companies (RASI) and Eagle Copters Limited was declared as the Single Calculated Bidder during the Bid Opening of 21 Refurbished Helicopters.”
“With the said declaration, this department will negotiate with RASI and Eagle Copters Limited to expedite the processing of the documents and the helicopters due for delivery,” Manlao told the US officials.
“In this regard, we are reaffirming our request for your support for the speedy delivery of the UH-1H helicopters. These aircraft are very much needed in alleviating the sufferings of our typhoon victims as well as in delivering the basic services to speed up the recovery of the typhoon-devastated areas,” he said.
The P1.26-billion negotiated deal with RASI was sealed in late December 2013, or a month after Manalo sent his request to US officials. Despite the DND official’s attempts to have the helicopters delivered early, the aircraft were shipped in mid-2014. So far, nine helicopters have been paid for but only two could actually fly. These two, however, have issues concerning safety and capability.
Gazmin “partially terminated” the contract with RASI on March 25 and gave the company seven days to justify why the deal should not be fully terminated.
The DND is yet to issue an official statement on the fate of the controversial deal that began in 2012, when Gazmin attempted to secure the approval of the Government Procurement Policy Board (GPPB) to acquire the 21 helicopters through a negotiated contract.
The GPPB, under Executive Order 645, should approve a negotiated deal as an alternative form of procurement for projects worth P500 million and above.
The board, through a resolution issued on October 25, 2012, only approved negotiated deals for the procurement of 10 attack helicopters and three naval helicopters. The same resolution affirmed the GPPB’s earlier decision dismissing the request of the DND to acquire the 21 Hueys through negotiation.
Last week, Budget Secretary Florencio Abad said he will look into the details of the GPPB deliberations concerning the Hueys.
Abad heads the GPPB, the highest policy-making body in government procurement as mandated by Republic Act (RA) 9184 or the Government Procurement Reform Act and Executive Order (EO) 645.
DND insiders said officials may have violated RA 9184 and EO 645 when they insisted on acquiring the helicopters despite repeated warnings by the GPPB in 2012.
A source of The Manila Times at DND claimed that the officials involved in the procurement of the helicopters were reviewing taped SBAC deliberations on the deal that may be subpoenaed by the lawmakers once congressional inquiry into the controversy is launched before the end of April.