MANILA - In a massive effort to prove the airworthiness of the newly-acquired and highly criticized refurbished helicopters, the Department of National Defense (DND) and the Philippine Air Force (PAF) flew the seven UH-1D choppers into Camp Aguinaldo and presented them before the media.
There to show support for the endeavor were Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin, Defense Undersecretary and Special Bids and Awards Committee chairman Fernando Manalo, and other defense officials.
Congressmen Rodolfo Biazon and Ashley Acedillo also came to observe the event.
The procurement of the Hueys was brought to question when supplier Rhodora Alvarez alleged at a Senate hearing that certain defense officials fixed the bidding process to make sure that the contract for the purchase of 21 UH-1 choppers would land in the hands of Rice Aircraft Service, Inc. (RASI).
Alvarez said the "fixing" involved requiring helicopters to have undergone the structural life extension program (SLEP), something only RASI could have provided.
Critics questioned why after three failed biddings, the negotiated procurement still went to RASI, when in fact RASI was one of the failed bidders.
The entire contract between the defense department and RASI was for the acquisition of 21 units of refurbished UH-1 helicopters for more than P1.26 billion.
But on March 25, 2015, the defense department partially terminated its contract with RASI because the latter failed to meet its deadline of delivery.
Only 6 UH-1D choppers were turned over to the PAF worth more than P30 million. The remaining 15 helicopters will no longer be bought.
Apart from the procurement, the airworthiness of the UH-1Ds was also put to question.
At the same Senate hearing, Senator JV Ejercito showed a report from the PAF where defects on the newly-turned over Hueys were detailed: one chopper would not start while another chopper required a change of engine. Two choppers would not start.
But Gazmin said Tuesday's demonstration was an attempt to allay fears about the choppers.
The seven UH-1D choppers flew in and landed in front of the grandstand.
DND officials gave a detailed presentation of the entire acquisition process, and PAF officials gave a rundown of the capabilities of the UH-1D and how, after SLEP, it was "at par or even much better" than the UH-1H that the PAF currently has.
Afterwards, members of the media were invited for a quick flight from the grounds of Camp Aguinaldo to Rizal province and back. For purposes of comparison, reporters were allowed to fly in the older UH-1H as well.
Gazmin and Manalo both maintained that the claims of corruption against the DND are all lies, but the department has also launched an internal investigation on the issue.
Manalo, for his part, has filed libel charges against Alvarez.
Biazon and Acedillo, meanwhile, announced that the House of Representatives will hold its own hearing and review on the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Modernization Program.
One of the topics up for discussion, Biazon said, is the chopper controversy.