Journalists covering the Defense department were invited to join a public flight demonstration of the seven of the 21 refurbished helicopters, which were alleged to be defective.
The helicopters will take off from the Philippine Air Force headquarters at Villamor Air Base in Pasay City (Metro Manila) and head for the main military headquarters in Camp Aguinaldo in Quezon City. A technical briefing will follow the flight demonstration.
The seven UH-1D helicopters were among the 21 aircraft involved in the controversial P1.2-billion acquisition project under the AFP Modernization Program.
The project was the subject of a series in The Manila Times that was based on documents provided by and interviews with the deal’s whistleblower, Rhodora Alvarez.
Alvarez–initially identified in series as Joey at her request–blew the lid off the allegedly anomalous deal involving the Department of National Defense (DND) and the joint venture contractor Rice Aircraft Services Inc and Eagle Copters Ltd. Her allegations included failure of the helicopters to pass technical inspection and questionable air worthiness.
The helicopter acquisition project is now the subject of a Senate blue ribbon investigation with Alvarez now under the protective custody of the Justice department.
Arsenio Andolong, director of the DND’s public affairs service, said the department wants to disprove reports that the helicopters were defective.
“This is to debunk once and for all the talks that the helicopters are defective, not flying and not [combat]mission capable. So that is the purpose of tomorrow’s activity,” he added.
Andolong said the RASI-supplied UH-1D helicopters will be taken for a spin along with the UH-1H variant to enable participants to have a “feel” of the difference between the two helicopter models.
Alvarez had claimed that bid specifications for the project was tailor-fitted to favor the RASI joint venture. She said the original specifications call for the supply of UH-1H helicopters but was later amended to UH-1 to enable the contractor to push the UH-1D, an older and “obsolete” model manufactured by Dornier.
At a recent Senate blue ribbon hearing, Alvarez said DND and military officials were allegedly aware of the defects in the deal and the aircraft that were delivered.
Responding to Alvarez’s claims, Defense Assistant Secretary Patrick Velez said in a news conference that they deliberately called for bids for UH-1 helicopters to entice more bidders.
“The reason why the bid documents stated UH 1 is it was intentionally made to ensure greater participation from bidders from different suppliers… there was no promise that it was [UH-1] H. The contract is UH-1, it might have been stated as UH-1H but it was common misconception there are several UH-1 it could be M it could be Y,” he added.
Apparently because of The Manila Times series on the allegedly anomalous deal, the DND scrapped the project and ordered blacklisting of the RASI-Eagle Copter venture.
In his order dated April 16, Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin informed Robert Rice, president of RASI, that the DND decided to end the contract for “default” and other violations of the Government Procurement Act or Republic Act 9184.
Malacanang said the government had only accepted seven UH-1 helicopters.