OUR July 21, 2015 column on the anomalous chopper deal, which implicated Department of National Defense (DND) secretary Voltaire Gazmin, elicited a long-winded press release from the Public Information Office (PIO) of the Philippine Air Force (PAF).
Of course, we find it a bit odd that the PAF is now acting as the spokesman for Gazmin when the Huey purchase was a DND project in the first place. Maybe, the PAF’s commanding general, Jeffrey Delgado, has insider information on DND’s Huey contract that he’d be willing to share with Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales, if and when she begins her overdue inquiry into the anomalous deal.
Going back to the press release, the PIO says all 7 UH-1Ds flew from Villamor Air Base in Pasay to Camp Aguinaldo in Quezon City, and therefore concludes that “all the 7 UH-1D helicopters were operational and fully mission capable.” Talaga?!
We don’t know if the PAF is playing dumb or it really is. Just because the Huey helicopters were able to fly from Pasay to Quezon City – a mere 10-minute flight time – doesn’t necessarily mean the choppers are safely operable or fully mission capable, more so under military standards.
The term “fully mission capable” has a specific meaning in military parlance. For instance, the US Army defines “fully mission capable” to mean the helicopter can perform all of its combat missions without endangering the lives of the crew. Similarly, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) classifies a helicopter as “fully mission capable” only when it can perform all its combat missions.
So how can the PAF say that the newly refurbished choppers are indeed fully mission capable when it has not yet been combat-tested? Perhaps Delgado should publicly disclose how many the combat missions the UH-1Ds have undergone until the July 14, 2015 flight demo. Or even how many flying hours each chopper has racked up since it was “accepted” by the PAF?
Anyway, aside from the PIO’s lengthy and highly technical explanation (or rather, justification) on why the UH-1Ds the DND bought from Rice Aircraft Services Inc.(RASI) were as good or better than the Hueys in its current fleet, neither its press release nor Gazmin squarely addressed the questions we raised in our July 21, 2015 column.
First, did RASI’s purchase of the UH-1Ds from Germany as well as its subsequent sale to the Philippines have the approval of the US State Department’s Directorate of Defense Trade Controls (DDTC) beforehand?
This is crucial because RASI already admitted in the California court lawsuit they filed against their Australian ex-partners that the UH-1D helicopters RASI sold to the PAF “are listed on the United States Munitions List [and]their purchase, import, sale and export require the approval of the DDTC.”
RASI also says it “believed that [Thach] Nguyen had assisted [RASI] in obtaining approvals” from the US government including the DDTC, which “approvals were quickly granted.” Nguyen is the Vietnamese-American representative of RASI to the DND bidding. However, RASI later found out, purportedly from DND officials themselves, that “the majority of approvals obtained by Nguyen were illegitimate” or falsified.
At the time, the DND had not yet awarded the contract for the purchase of the Huey helicopters. Which bring us to another question that Gazmin ought to answer: Why did he still award the contract to RASI knowing that the “approvals” submitted by its then agent Nguyen were forged?
If there was indeed that prior US State Department approval, Gazmin ought to show it to the public – immediately. But if there is none, then RASI would have engineered the biggest scam both on the German government and the Philippine government, with the complicity of Gazmin and other DND officials who, it appears, intentionally ignored the glaring defects in the deal.
There are other issues that Gazmin needs to make clear to the public.
Under the DND contract, all 21 UH-1D helicopters bought from RASI should have been delivered by September 23, 2014, otherwise, RASI would have to pay liquidated damages for every month of delay. Gazmin partially terminated its contract with RASI on March 25, 2015 after the American supplier reached the 10 percent maximum limit of liquidated damages two months earlier (on January 31, 2015).
Until now, Gazmin has not explained why he didn’t terminate the deal 6 months sooner when RASI failed to make the September 2014 deadline. Also, why did it take him another 2 months to finally terminate the chopper contract knowing that RASI had exceeded the maximum allowable liquidated damages?
Would Gazmin have cancelled the contract had our Manila Times reporter Joel Sy Egco not exposed the anomalies in the transaction? We don’t think so. In fact, right up to the time Gazmin rescinded the contract, both RASI and DND officials were busy defending the anomalous deal, all the while depicting whistleblower Rhodora Alvarez as an “extortionist.”
Sure, Alvarez may not have the purest motives in mind. Her exposé may be payback for a deal turned sour. But that doesn’t make her an unbelievable witness, especially with RASI’s admission that Alvarez was indeed their “official agent” for the chopper deal.
We wonder what the United States’ Department of Justice would make of this inter-continental bribery scandal.