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  PERRYSCOPE

Mike Arroyo and the ‘Chopper Scam’



August 1, 2011
Last July 31, 2011, while former president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo was in intensive care at the St. Luke’s Medical Center in Taguig City recuperating from a spinal surgery caused by a pinched nerve, her husband Mike left for Hong Kong for a medical checkup. He could have gone to St. Luke’s Medical Center in Quezon City where he usually goes for checkups; and where he had a delicate angioplasty operation in 2007. Or, he could have gone to St. Luke’s Medical Center in Taguig City – where Gloria was recovering – where he was rushed in March 2009 for treatment after suffering a new tear in a major blood vessel connected to the heart.
But why did Mike rush to Hong Kong for a medical checkup?
 According to Mike, Gloria’s surgery caused him a lot of stress, forcing him to seek medical help in Hong Kong. But couldn’t the doctors at St. Luke’s Medical Center in Quezon City or Taguig City do the checkup? And, again, why Hong Kong… unless there are other considerations?

“Chopper scam”
Last June 2011, Sen. Panfilo “Ping” Lacson brought before the Senate the details of a transaction involving the sale of three helicopters to the Philippine National Police (PNP) for P105 million during Gloria’s administration. What was seemingly a routine sale of equipment turned out to be anomalous and, possibly, illegal.
Investigation by Lacson revealed that the PNP’s Bids and Awards Committee (BAC)/ Negotiating Committee (NC) started talking to Manila Aerospace Products Trading Corp. (MAPTRA) on May 8, 2009 for the purchase of three brand-new helicopters. On July 9, 2009, the BAC/NC recommended the award of the contract to MAPTRA whom they vouched to be a “legally, technically and financially capable” supplier that had been in business “for so many years.” Consequently, then-PNP Chief Gen. Jesus Verzosa approved the supply contract to pay MAPTRA P105 million for one Robinson R44 Raven II and two Robinson R44 Raven I helicopters.
 But here is the stinger! Lacson reportedly said, “Contrary to the findings of the Negotiation Committee that MAPTRA has been engaged in the business for so many years, the Securities and Exchange Commission records state that MAPTRA was only given its certificate of incorporation on June 10, 2009.” That was one month before the Negotiating Committee recommended the contract award to MAPTRA! Then Lacson dropped the bomb saying that two of the three supposedly new choppers, the two R44 Raven I choppers were “pre-owned” as far back as March 2004 shown in flight logs.
 This led the PNP to initiate its own investigation of at least 27 generals and officers – many of them already retired — for complicity in the “chopper scam.” Those involved were seven members of the (BAC/NC), four members of the Inspection and Acceptance Committee, and 16 from the Technical Inspection Team. However, the current PNP leadership is silent about why Verzosa – the top honcho — was not included in their investigation? There was also concern within PNP that there might be a “cover up” of possible involvement of still-active high-ranking officers in sensitive positions.

Mike Arroyo link
Considering the gravity of the crime and a damning paper trail of incriminating documents — and witnesses — linking Mike to the “chopper scam,” there is very good chance that the government would be able to successfully prosecute him for plunder. Another plus in favor of the government is that former Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez is no longer around to protect Mike – who was her classmate in law school — like what she did when she was still the Ombudsman. Today, the new Ombudsman, retired Supreme Court Justice Conchita Carpio-Morales, seems like she’s committed to prosecute those involved in corruption.
 With six plunder complaints already filed against Gloria, and a plunder complaint most likely to be filed against Mike on the “chopper scam,” how could the former First Couple bear the thought of being incarcerated for the rest of their lives?
Incriminating testimony
 Last August 2, 2011, Archibald Legaspi Po, president of Lion Air Inc., testified that he sold five Robinson helicopters to Mike Arroyo in 2004. Two years later, Mike ordered Po to sell two of his helicopters to the PNP at $350,000 (approx. P15.75 million) each, which is higher than the factory price of over $312,000 (approx. P14 million). However, the sale was made to the PNP through Manila Aerospace Products Trading Corp. (MAPTRA). This was done because MAPTRA had a supply contract with PNP. But the supply contract specified brand-new units only!
 Hilario de Vera, president of MAPTRA, testified that Po informed him that PNP would buy the two second-hand helicopters because Mike ordered PNP to do so. De Vera then said that he delivered the two helicopters to PNP on September 24, 2009. “This was when I confirmed that no one would ask from the PNP on what I would deliver because they had orders from First Gentleman Mike Arroyo,” said de Vera.
Po also testified that he personally delivered $700,000 (approx. P31.5 million) in cash to Mike in his law office at the LTA Building on April 16, 2010 for payment of two used choppers at an exorbitant price of $350,000 each (the price of a five-year old Robinson R44 Raven I chopper is estimated to be only $260,000 to $280,000 each). Po said that Mike turned the money over to his bookkeeper, Rowena del Rosario. Three days before, on April 13, the PNP paid MAPTRA the remaining balance of P49,689,401.80 for the P105-million anomalous transaction.
De Vera also testified that he split a P7-million commission with Po as part of the deal. Not bad for “fixing” a deal. But even with this commission it does not add up. Who got the rest of the money, which is approximately P16.8 million?
With the damaging testimony of Po and de Vera against Mike, the Senate summoned Mike and his accountant Rowena del Rosario to appear at the next hearing on August 11. Senate President Pro Tempore Jinggoy Estrada also requested Malacañang Palace and the Department of Justice to place Mike on the watch list of the Bureau of Immigration.

“I’m back”
 Mike came back home on August 8 and in an impromptu press conference at the airport he said, “To my detractors, I’m back. You should be ashamed for peddling lies to the public while I was away.” Disputing the testimonies of Po and de Vera, Mike said that he’d file a complaint of perjury against them claiming that he never purchased the choppers from Po. If he is innocent of the accusations of Po and de Vera, then he should attend the Senate hearing on August 11 and face his accusers… and see who blinks first.
If Mike chooses not to attend the Senate hearing to refute the testimonies of Po and de Vera, then there is reason to believe that he — notwithstanding the constitutional provision that he is “presumed innocent until proven guilty” — is guilty in the court of public opinion. And there is no appeal and there is no clemency.
Mike’s denial reminds us of Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s Propaganda Minister, whose dictum was: “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it.” But history proved that Goebbels’ lies didn’t save him and his master from perdition. Hitler took his own life in the last days of the Third Reich. And so did Goebbels. Indeed, crime doesn’t pay. (PerryDiaz@gmail.com)
 



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