Sen. Joseph Victor Ejercito finds unacceptable the reason of the Department of National Defense for buying P1.2 billion worth of refurbished helicopters for the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

Speaking to reporters after an executive session in the inquiry on the purchase of the aircraft, Ejercito said the DND officials told the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee that it chose refurbished UH-1D choppers to allow the agency procure more compared to getting brand new ones.

“Partly ay nadiscuss namin ang procurement pero hindi pa rin ako satisfied na bakit tayo kinakailangang bumili ng antiquated equipment, matanda pa ito sa mga sundalo natin na magreretire na,” Ejercito said.

“Hindi ito tugma sa modernization program, we will be buying 40-to 50-year old air assets,” he said.

“Buti sana kung tangke yan o trak na kung tumirik e pwede mong iparada, e pag helicopter hindi mo pwedeng iparada yan pag tumirik,” Ejercito said.

He said that DND thought that it would be better to get 21 refurbished UH-1D than three to four new ones

“Siguro sa P1.2 billion ang mabibili lang dun dalawa o tatlo o apat na brand new against 21 refurbished,” Ejercito said.

“Sa akin e buhay pa rin ng ating sundalo ang nakasalalay dyan and I had a chance to talk to the pilots ng Air Force, hindi talaga sila kampante na ilipad itong mga refurbished helicopters,” he added.

The committee was supposed to discuss only the AFP’s operational readiness and capability gaps during the executive session while the anomaly on the procurement of choppers should be in open session but committee chairman Sen. Teofisto Guingona III decided to adjourn the hearing by noon.

Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin requested for the executive session so as not to jeopardize the security interest of the state.

“Kasi inabot na kami ng 12 o’clock, lunch time, we do understand andyan yung Secretary of National Defense, yung AFP chief of staff, and other heads of the different service commands, inabot na ng lunch time medyo napatagal yung kanilang presentation sa executive session so nagdecide si Sen. Guingona to reschedule it para meron na rin kaming enough time to prepare our questions dun sa kanilang presentation sa executive session,” Ejercito said.

He said the defense and military officials gave details during the executive session that the senators wanted to study first.

“The committee hearing will be rescheduled and we will be inviting yung mga nasa acquisition, nasa Bids and Awards Committee ng DND para malaman natin yung procurement process. Ito naman yung gusto nating malaman, kung nasusunod yung standards, kung talagang bago tayo mag-acquire ng equipment, may technical working group,” Ejercito said.

There is no specific date yet on the next hearing.

Ejercito said he wanted to know if the procurement of assets is demand driver or supply driven.

“Is it demand-driven, kung ano yung kailangan ng AFP, o supply driven? Ito ang gusto nating malaman kung talagang mayroong anomalya o wala. Hopefully sa susunod na hearing ay ma-clarify ito at at least we will have a better understanding of the process of acquisition of equipment of the Armed Forces,” Ejercito said.

Senators have questioned the procurement of 21 UH-1D combat helicopters by the DND as it was allegedly tailor-fitted for a favored bidder.

The contract was reportedly awarded to Joint Venture of Rice Aircraft Services, Inc and Eagle Copters, Ltd on December 28, 2013 for a bid price of P1.25 billion.

Reports have it that the UH-1D units that were delivered by the supplier to the Philippine Air Force were non-compliant with the project contract’s Terms of Reference. The units also reportedly have limited use due to some defects, defeating the purpose of its acquisition and prima facie wastage of taxpayer’s money.

The DND has already created a committee led by Undersecretary for Legal and Legislative Affairs and Strategic Concerns Pio Lorenzo Batino to investigate the alleged irregularity.(MNS)