DEFENSE Secretary Voltaire Gazmin was allegedly set to receive 7 percent “commission” while other officials of the Department of National Defense (DND) would split 5 percent in exchange for awarding of the P1.2-billion helicopter supply contract to a favored bidder, a government employee who claims she was privy to the deal told senators on Tuesday.
Rhodora Alvarez, an employee of the Bureau of Internal Revenue who helped The Manila Times expose the allegedly anomalous transaction, said in her sworn statement to the Senate blue ribbon committee that she learned about the alleged “commission” in a “secret” meeting between DND Undersecretary Fernando Manalo and Robert Rice Jr, president of Rice Aircraft Services Inc. (RASI), inside the DND official’s office on November 4, 2013.
Alvarez, who was code-named “Joey” in The Manila Times series, added that the meeting was held after a pre-negotiation conference between RASI and the DND.
It was during that meeting where Manalo reminded Rice about the commitment allegedly made by the firm’s representative, Thach Nguyen, to the payment of the commission that RASI would give to the DND officials who were involved in the project.
It was through Nguyen that Alvarez got involved in the deal after she helped the former secure a Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) clearance for RASI back in July 2012.
“There, [Manalo] confirmed to Mr. Rice that Mr. Nguyen committed to give 7 percent commission to SND (Secretary of National Defense) and 5 percent down the line,” Alvarez stated in her sworn affidavit she submitted to the blue ribbon committee.
Among those who will reportedly share the five percent were Manalo, Assistant Secretary Patrick Velez and other individuals whom she did not name.
Alvarez further revealed in her affidavit that Rice also gave $20,000 each to Brig. Gen. Conrado Parra and Maj. Oliver Casuncad after they assured Rice that RASI will pass the post-qualification procedure.
“This was confirmed to me by no less than General Parra in subsequent meetings and telephone conversation, while Casuncad admitted that he is a bit withdrawn to face Mr. Rice because of the incident,” Alvarez stated.
She, however, admitted that she could not confirm if the concerned DND officials cashed in on the deal because she refused to take part in the transaction.
Alvarez said Rice was trying to convince her to sign a contract with him because that is the only way the latter could justify the seven percent and the five percent commissions intended for the DND, by making it appear that the same is part of her commission as local representative of RASI.
There was even a meeting sometime in June 2014 where Undersecretary Manalo and Rice agreed that the commission will just be delivered to the brother of Parra, in the United States, and who will then wire the money to the Philippines.
The plan, however, did not push through because it would be difficult for Parra’s brother to justify where he got the amount and why he is sending it home.
Alvarez also stated in her affidavit that Rice promised to give her three percent commission and, once RASI receives the payment for the helicopters, Rice will also help her put up her own company that would supply manpower for the assembly of the choppers and the company will be utilized in supplying aircraft spare parts for 10-years.
She also admitted that none of the commitments materialized because she refused to sign a contract with Rice after she discovered that anomalies and irregularities were being committed by the supplier.
“To set the record straight, I have no intention to receive payment for my services much less ask money from Mr. Rice for my personal benefit. Only, I am asking for the reimbursement for the expenses that I was constrain[ed]to pay in the absence of Mr. Rice relative to the project,” Alvarez said.
She played an important role for RASI during negotiations, evidently the reason why she is very familiar with the process.
Copies of Alvarez’s affidavit were distributed to defense and military officials as well as owners of RASI during Tuesday’s blue ribbon hearing.
The committee gave the concerned individuals a chance to respond to the allegations made by the whistleblower but they decided not to and instead informed the committee that they would just submit their respective counter-affidavits.
During the hearing, it allowed Alvarez to proceed with her presentation on the alleged irregularities in the P1.2-billion chopper procurement deal, which she claimed to be tailor-fitted to RASI.
The helicopter acquisition contract is part of the Armed Forces of the Philippines modernization program, which involves acquisition of 21 UH-1H refurbished helicopters–six refurbished, seven for operationalization and eight for upgrade.
But Alvarez said the contract was changed to acquisition of 21 refurbished UH-1 helicopters to accommodate RASI.
She added that RASI was able to get the contract despite being disqualified twice for submitting falsified documents such as statement of previous and ongoing contracts, particularly its contract with the Tunisian government and audited financial statement; and using a name of a certified public accountant that was only taken from the Internet.