Whistleblower tells Senate how chopper firm got away with defects
A Philippine Air Force (PAF) general who headed a technical team in charge of ensuring the quality of Huey helicopters acquired under the military’s modernization program was allegedly offered a US visa and job for his brother abroad, senators investigating the P1.2-billion project were told onWednesday.
At the resumption of the Senate blue ribbon committee hearing, Rhodora Alvarez, who claims to have coordinated the deal between the Department of National Defense and the North American joint venture that was awarded the contract to supply 21 combat utility helicopters for the Air Force, said officials were aware of defects in the deal and the aircraft that were delivered.
Alvarez is the principal source of The Manila Times series that uncovered the alleged anomalies behind the acquisition of the helicopters from the Rice Aircraft Services Inc and Eagle Copters Ltd.
Alvarez, who works at the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR), was the source who was code-named “Joey” in The Times report. It was her first time to appear before the blue ribbon committee where she came face to face with defense and military officials whom she claims were involved in the alleged anomaly.
Alvarez narrated to the senators how she got involved in the transaction.
She said she had met a certain Tak Nguyen whom she claimed approached her for help in getting BIR clearance for Rice Aircraft Services Inc (RASI).
It was Nguyen, according to Alvarez, who told her about the difficulties RASI was facing in dealing with the government as it was then trying to secure the P1.2-billion contract under the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) modernization program. Through time, she ended up being the “coordinator” of the project from negotiations stage up to initial delivery of the helicopters.
In her initial presentation, Alvarez gave a bird’s eye view how technical details of the bid were tailor-fitted to favor RASI to enable it to supply UH-1D helicopters instead of the UH-1H model as what was originally planned.
She said Defense Undersecretary Fernando Manalo and Patrick Velez, Defense assistant secretary for acquisition, installation and materials, were allegedly aware of the contract violations and were the ones advising RASI how to cure the defects or skirt certain government regulations.
It was then that Alvarez accused PAF Brig. Gen. Conrado Parra, who headed the Department of National Defense (DND) technical working group, of allowing RASI to get away with its shortcomings in exchange for helping his brother and his family to secure a US visa and a job in the United States.
Parra, who was also at the hearing, vehemently denied the allegations, saying his brother has been in the US for 13 years and is not in any way connected with RASI.
Before Alvarez could go further with her presentation, Sen. Teofisto Guingona 3rd, chairman of the Senate blue ribbon committee, decided to temporarily suspend the hearing and set another date to further hear her testimony and give Defense officials the chance to answer the allegations.
Sen. Jose Victor Ejercito, who authored a resolution calling for the probe, also asked Alvarez to submit a sworn statement containing all her allegations.
In the same hearing, Undersecretary Manalo made a presentation where he briefed senators about the procurement process for the 21 refurbished UH-1D helicopters that started in 2012.
During the first bidding, there were seven bidders who expressed intent to participate but only two submitted required documents including RASI.
The first bidding was declared a failure after RASI was disqualified for not submitting basic documentary requirements.
The DND then called for a second bidding and RASI participated in the process but was disqualified once again for reportedly submitting spurious documents.
The US-based firm was again disqualified the third time even after forming a joint venture with Eagle Copters, Ltd. Also for its failure to submit documentary requirements.
The DND after three failed biddings then went into negotiated bidding with the joint venture of RASI and Eagle Copters, and awarded the contract despite the venture being disqualified earlier.
Ejercito asked why the DND still selected RASI and its partner even after having been disqualified three times.
“I find it hard to comprehend why despite being disqualified from the bidding three times, RASI still managed to get the contract,” he said.
Ejercito pointed out that instead of being blacklisted for submitting fake documents during the previous bidding process, it seemed that RASI was rewarded after the DND decided to award the contract to the joint venture.
Senator Francis Escudero said someone should be held responsible for the chopper deal because it was clear that there is negligence.
Escudero also asked DND Assistant Secretary Velez to explain why they proceeded with the bidding despite being unaware if the helicopter units they needed were available or if there were suppliers that could meet the supply contract requirement, particularly the 45-day delivery period.
“Why did it have to take three failed biddings before you knew and realized that it will take any supplier 180 days to deliver the items? Isn’t that supposed to be stock knowledge on your part, isn’t that a basic requirement before you put something up for bidding, that you know what’s out there, instead of getting your information from the suppliers themselves?” the senator asked.
Responding to Escudero’s question, Velez said the 45-day delivery period was not something that the bids and awards committee came up with, noting that it was part of the senior leaders conference based on assessment by a team that conducted the reexamination of four different companies.
Guingona, in an interview after the hearing, refused to say if he finds Alvarez as a credible witness, but said he is convinced that she knows what she is talking about.
“If you noticed, she knows a lot of details, even the size of fuel tanks and other technical terms. So that might be one indication that she knows at least what she’s talking about,” he said.
The senator added that Alvarez just started giving her testimony and is yet to submit her affidavit and it is too early to measure her credibility.
Manalo tried to discredit the whistleblower by insisting that Alvarez has a personal motive in coming out with her allegations.|
Guigona, meanwhile. said his committee will ask the Department of Justice if Alvarez can be provisionally included in the Witness Protection Program (WPP) over concerns about her safety.