Criminal Defense Lawyer May be Needed By Whistle Blower

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A criminal defense lawyer may be needed by the Bureau of Internal Revenue employee who blew the whistle on the allegedly irregular P1.2-billion purchase of military helicopters, recommending criminal or civil charges against her.

At the same time, the investigation committee created by Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin to look into the allegations, found the deal aboveboard and “no irregularities” had been committed by officials from the DND and Armed Forces of the Philippines in the purchase of the Huey helicopters.

A summary of the findings of the panel headed by Undersecretary Pio Lorenzo Batino was released Thursday on Gazmin’s orders.

The controversial deal had also been the subject of separate inquiries by the Senate and House of Representatives.

The alleged scam came to light after the BIR’s Rhodora Alvarez claimed the chopper acquisition contract had been “tailor-fitted” to accommodate the winning bidder, a joint venture of US-based Rice Aircraft Services Inc. or RASI and Eagle Copter of Canada.

During the Senate probe, Alvarez said RASI won the bid even after having been disqualified thrice, twice for failing to meet documentary requirements and, during the second bidding, alleged “falsification.”

She also said changes in the contract and RASI’s alleged violations of procurement laws were all done with the knowledge of Defense officials including Gazmin.

The summary of the Batino panel said it had invited Alvarez to participate in its investigation but that she “declined to submit her affidavit to the Investigating Committee or attend clarificatory hearings,” which officials of the DND, AFP and RASI attended, leaving the committee to depend on the affidavit and other documents she submitted to the Senate Blue Ribbon committee.

The committee noted that after the three failed biddings for the “UH-1 Acquisition Project,” the DND’s Special Bids and Awards Committee 1 decided to conduct a negotiated procurement and that only RASI submitted a bid and was awarded the contract “after passing the Post Qualification Evaluation.”

“The entire bidding procedure was witnessed at every stage, by the various prospective bidders, and observers as required by law,” it said.

The fact that RASI had failed in the first three biddings “rebut the allegations of Ms. Alvarez that RASI received undue advantage from DND-AFP officials,” the committee added.

It also noted that the Philippine Air Force’s Technical Working Group and Technical Inspection Acceptance Committee “expressly declare that the features complained by Ms. Alvarez … comply with the specifications” of the contract.

“The expert opinions of the PAF officials must be given much greater weight in technical matters vis-à-vis the accusations of Ms. Alvarez,” it added.

But more damning to Alvarez, the committee said “as admitted by RASI, Thach Nguyen assisted by Rhodora Alvarez, submitted spurious documents during the bidding process, as discovered in the course of the investigation,” and recommended that “the DND to file the appropriate criminal or civil charges against them with the proper offices.”

Thach was the RASI’s former Philippine representative who company owner Robert Rice confirmed to the Senate is detained in the US for allegedly misrepresenting himself as a State Department official.

Alvarez, too, told the Senate she ended up “coordinating” the chopper procurement project after Thach, who she said she got to know when he sought her help seeking clearance from the BIR, had gone into hiding.

The DND committee also asked the BAC to consider “other penalties that can be imposed, in relation to” the alleged submission of the spurious documents by Thach and Alvarez.