DND panel to probe spotty helicopter deal

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THE Department of National Defense (DND) has formed a committee to look into the allegedly anomalous acquisition of 21 refurbished helicopter gunships that The Manila Times uncovered with the help of a source who said he was privy to the deal.

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The probe panel will be headed by Defense Undersecretary Pio Lorenzo Batino, who was given 90 days to finish the investigation.

The P1.26-billion helicopter deal was signed in the last quarter of 2013.

But even before the committee could begin its probe, the spokesman for the Defense department is already pointing to an alleged “internal problem” between Rice Aircraft Services Inc. (RASI) and its Canadian partner, Eagle Copters Ltd.

“Ayaw naman ni [Defense] Secretary [Voltaire Gazmin] na pabayaang ganun, siyempre we would also like to get to the bottom of it, saan ba nagsimula yang ganyang klaseng kuwento, although ngayon nakikita natin na yung issue is internal problem ng Rice na sila-sila nagkaroon ng issue, nagka-onsehan sila, ngayon naiipit tayo sa, tayo yung collateral damage ng away nila, ang dami na nilang allegations dun [Secretary Gazmin and us would like to resolve the issue, especially now that Rice and its partner are said to be double-crossing each other, we are dragged into it, we are collateral damage of their in-fighting, they have come up with allegations],” Peter Paul Galvez told reporters.

Also on Thursday, the spokesman for Philippine Air Force (PAF) denied reports that the helicopters involved in the deal are not flyable and mission-capable.

Lt. Col. Enrico Canaya said the UH-1Ds have complied with technical specifications as stated in the contract.

He pointed out that the PAF does not accept aircraft with technical issues.

“The units that have been accepted comply with the technical specifications and operational concept set by the PAF, hence they are mission-capable,” Canaya said.

He, however, added that seven of the 21 UH-1Ds ordered from RASI are undergoing servicing at the Air Force.

One, according to Canaya, is undergoing “acceptance testing” while six are undergoing “flight test” and the rest are in various stages of assembly.

The seven helicopters have been deployed to PAF units in Metro Manila and Central Luzon to make them accessible to the supplier’s technical representatives and for the government
to be able to take advantage of warranty claims.

Canaya explained that the UH-1D and UH-IH (Huey) variants are similar models but were assembled by different manufacturers.

He dismissed reports that UH-1D spare parts are no longer available in the market.

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