Trader says he personally delivered the money to then First Gentleman
MANILA, Philippines (UPDATE) - Former First Gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo personally received $700,000 for the sale of his 2 "pre-owned" helicopters that were sold to the Philippine National Police (PNP), a local supplier said Tuesday.
Archibald Legaspi Po, president of Lion Air Inc., said he personally delivered the $700,000 to the First Gentleman at the LTA Building a few days after the PNP paid for the choppers on April 16, 2010.
"I handed it personally to First Gentleman Arroyo and he passed it to (secretary) Rowena del Rosario," Po testified during the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee inquiry.
Po said he sold the 5 Robinson helicopters to the First Gentleman in 2004 since he is the sole distributor of Robinson choppers in the Philippines.
He said the helicopters were registered under the name of his other company, Asian Spirit, but the actual owner was Arroyo.
Po served as custodian of the choppers while Arroyo paid P10,000 monthly for hangarage, pre-flight and post flight maintenance. He identified a certain Rowena del Rosario, allegedly Arroyo's secretary, as the one who paid for the maintenance fees.
The supplier said Arroyo expressed interest in selling the remaining helicopters for $350,000 each. To facilitate the sale, he said 2 choppers were sold to Lion Air so that custom duties and taxes could be paid before they could be sold to 3rd parties.
For his part, President Hilario de Vera of Manila Aerospace Products Trading Corp. (MAPTRA) said he approached Lion Air to ask if they were interested in participating in the PNP's procurement of helicopters.
He said Lion Air pushed for the sale of 2 pre-owned helicopters and 1 brand new helicopter to the PNP instead of the PNP's demand for brand new helicopters.
During the negotiations, de Vera said Po repeatedly assured him that the procurement would push through since the police generals had already received orders from Malacañang.
He said Po even warned that MAPTRA would not be able sell anything to the PNP if he did not agree to sell the Arroyo helicopters.
De Vera said he complained to Po when the PNP asked him to sign the purchase contract showing that the helicopters were brand new instead of pre-owned.
He said Po told him to just sign the document. "Alam ko kikita ka naman diyan. Masyado ka namang nerbyoso," he quoted Po as saying.
De Vera said he delivered the choppers on September 24, 2009 to the PNP.
"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," he said.
The Senate has invited Arroyo and his secretary to the next hearing on the helicopter controversy.
Who owns choppers?
Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, meanwhile, asked why PNP sought to deal with MAPTRA instead of directly with Lion Air to save costs.
Po said that Lion Air is not an accredited supplier of PNP and that he does not know the procedure in joining public biddings for government projects.
De Vera, meanwhile, said MAPTRA is the accredited marketing arm of Lion Air.
Enrile, however, questioned why MAPTRA was selling helicopters that it did not own. He also questioned the PNP why it accepted MAPTRA as a bidder when it did not even have titles for the helicopters.
"As custodian of the commonweal, law enforcers sacrificing prudence and due diligence, why did you not check if the representation of this company is correct, if it owned the helicopters?" he said.
For his part, Sen. Sergio Osmeña questioned why the police would procure pre-owned choppers if the price was not much different with that of a brand new chopper.
He said the pre-owned choppers should have been sold at nearly half price, instead of full price.
Immunity from lawsuit
At the start of the hearing, Po asked the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee for immunity from suit "in view of the sensitive matter before the committee and the probable perils."
Po also asked for protection, noting that he had been receiving threats. "I have some people going around my place and things to that effect," he said.
Enrile, however, said Po should be able to secure himself since he could readily afford a lawyer. He also expressed reservations about giving Po immunity from lawsuit.
"My problem with that - if he was an instrumental tool to effect the crime committed, are we going to grant him immunity from suit simply because he is spilling the beans now to protect himself from criminal prosecution when in fact he may be the inducing party that effected the crime?" he asked.
Po, however, said his testimony before the Senate is not conditional, and that he would still testify even without immunity.