ON Wednesday, Rhodora Alvarez, a former official of the Department of National Defense who first became known to the Filipino public through a Manila Times exclusive report as the whistleblower “Joey,” filed graft charges at the Ombudsman against Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin and 38 others over a P1.25-billion anomalous procurement deal for 21 utility helicopters.
Early last year, Alvarez told The Manila Times that DND and Philippine Air Force (PAF) officials violated bid and procurement rules in late 2013 to award a P1.25-billion contract for the supply of 21 refurbished Bell UH-1H “Huey” helicopters to a joint venture of an American company, Rice Aircraft Services, and a Canadian firm, Eagle Copter Ltd.
Alvarez claimed that Rice Aircraft, being primarily an aircraft broker, had no capacity to furnish the specified helicopters, which was confirmed later when several helicopters of the less-advanced UH-1D model were delivered and found to be riddled with flaws; one even crashed in Sarangani Province. Alvarez further claimed that Gazmin was to have received a 7 percent “commission” from the deal, with other officials in DND and PAF receiving smaller amounts.
As a result of The Manila Times’ report, a Congressional inquiry was launched and Gazmin was compelled to cancel the contract and blacklist its erstwhile suppliers.
We applaud Ms. Alvarez’ perseverance in elevating the case to the Ombudsman. Her doing so is the mark of a true public servant. A crime has been committed – by whom, exactly, and in what degree, will still have to be determined – which wasted public funds and, more critically, imposed an unacceptable and entirely unnecessary risk to our servicemen and -women. The issue cannot simply be forgotten with the cancellation of the fraudulent contract.
Nor can it be brushed aside by the Ombudsman’s office, now that a formal complaint has been lodged. That is a grave concern that none of us should have, but unfortunately, the culture of cronyism and selective justice encouraged by President BS Aquino 3rd over the past six years has made it reasonable to fear that laws will not be enforced and justice will not be done when it involves certain personalities. This is not only a constant, but also a consistently justifiable, fear. As a matter of fact, we would be surprised, shocked even, if Aquino did not in some way try to intercede to prevent his Defense Secretary and other VIPs named in the case from being held accountable.
Of course, his living up to our expectations is not something we will tolerate or allow to go unchallenged, and we urge the Filipino people not to do so, either. Playing with the lives of those who defend this nation in order to skim a contract for personal financial gain is corruption of the worst sort, a signal to foreign powers and others who may seek to harm the country that we are weak and careless in our own defense. That’s a message that we doubt even the flexible morals of BS Aquino could tolerate sending to the world.