Chopper deal whistleblower unfazed by Mike Arroyo

by Ces Oreña-Drilon, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Aug 10 2011 09:58 PM | Updated as of Aug 11 2011 05:58 AM

Chopper deal whistleblower unfazed by Mike Arroyo 1
ABS-CBN News' Ces Oreña-Drilon interviews Lion Air president Archibald Po at an undisclosed location over the allegedly spurious sale of second-hand helicopters to the Philippine National Police. Po says former First Gentleman Mike Arroyo owned the choppers.  Photos courtesy of Ces Oreña-Drilon, ABS-CBN News

MANILA, Philippines - When the Philippine National Police's (PNP) controversial purchase of second-hand helicopters erupted, Lion Air president Archibald Po knew it was just a matter of time and he would have to tell what he knew.

When the subpoena came for him to appear before the Senate, the choice was clear. "It was a choice between telling the truth and accepting it's mine. I'll be the greatest liar if I say it's mine," he said.

"It's elementary, what you will choose? Legally, they were saying I can accept it and that's the end of it legally, but then the tinik (thorn) is still in my heart. The rest of your life you will be bugged by this tinik," he added.

On the eve of Po's second appearance before the Senate, which is investigating the PNP's purchase of second-hand helicopters, the unlikely witness is unfazed by the perjury charges filed against him by former First Gentleman Mike Arroyo.

"Unang-una, nagsasabi ako ng totoo at palagay ko katoohanan ang magwawagi dito. I will prove him wrong." (In the first place I am the one telling the truth and in the end truth will prevail.)

Po said the evidence he has in his possession, along with the testimony of other witnesess, will be sufficient to prove that the helicopters sold to the PNP belonged to Arroyo.

Life turned upside down

He said his life has been turned upside down by his testimony before the Senate.

Po, who has been in the airplane and helicopter charter and sales business for 28 years, is more comfortable working alongside mechanics in his hangar right by the old domestic airport.

"Unang-una, simpleng simpleng tao ako hindi ako sanay mag-amerikana. Pa t-shirt t-shirt lang ako, para lang akong isang ano sa talyer. Ngayon hindi na ako pwede lumabas, nahihirapan ang pamilya ko, hindi kami nagkikita madalas." (I am a simple man, I am not used to wearing a suit. I am more comfortable wearing t-shirts and working with mechanics in my shop. Now I can't go out. It is difficult for my family as I don't see them often).

He said he is taking precautions amid warnings of threats to his safety. He requested that ABS-CBN News not dislose the location of the interview.

5 helicopters for 2004 elections

Po said he met Mike Arroyo in late 2003 when the latter placed an order for five R-44 Raven-1 helicopters for use in the 2004 elections. A downpayment of over $450,000 was made for the order worth $1.565M.

As early as 2006, Po said Arroyo told him to look for a buyer for his helicopters.

In the meantime, the helicopters were maintained by his company Lion Air with a revolving fund of P450,000 given by Arroyo for maintenance and other costs.

In 2009, MAPTRA (Manila Aerospace Product Training) asked Lion Air for quotations on pre-owned helicopters.

Po showed ABS-CBN a copy of his proposal to sell to MAPTRA, which specified that the helicopters were pre-owned, indicating as well the serial numbers and flying time.

Po accused MAPTRA president Hilario de Vera of lying in his Senate testimony when he pinpointed Po as having been the brains behind passing off the helicopters as brand new to the PNP.

"Siguradong nagsinungaling dahil nagkaroon ng tatlong proposal na ako. Lahat segunda mano. Kung ano ang totoong specification, iyon ang proposal." (He was definitely lying. I sent three proposals indicating the helicopters were pre owned. All the specifications were indicated in the proposals.)

Po said he only sells brand new helicopters, but because of Arroyo's request, he would offer the second-hand helicopters at the price of $350,000 that Arroyo wanted to sell.

There were no takers until MAPTRA came into the picture.

It was only in April 2009, when they learned that MAPTRA's client was the PNP, when MAPTRA asked them for a quotation for police helicopter.

Po said, "documents will show we treated the deal professionally. They were the ones who approached us. They asked us for a proposal for used helicopters and one brand new police helicopter and we gave them the proposals."

He said he does not regret what he has done even if he now faces perjury charges in court. "May pagsisisi? Hindi talaga ako kinakabahan. I feel good really. It's something that once in a lifetime you do something good, to show other people na we can do it. Just tell the truth."

Po has a message to Mike Arroyo, whom he once considered a friend, "For the first time in your lifetime, you got to tell the truth and I guess you will feel better accepting the truth no matter what."