Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Navy, Air Force downplay ‘collusion’ over P4 billion worth of helicopters

By Mario J Mallari
The Daily Tribune News, Wednesday, 06 October 2010

Both the Navy and Air Force leaderships yesterday downplayed collusion between their respective technical working groups that identified the specifications for acquisition of P4 billion worth of helicopters and the suppliers which was the basis of the Department of National defense (DND) to defer the procurement process.

“It isn’t possible to influence the specs to suit a particular manufacturer in that bottom-up process,” said Navy spokesman Lt. Col. Edgard Arevalo.

Arevalo cited the budget allotted to the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) as a major factor in the procurement of helicopters. The DND has allotted P860 million for two units of multi-role helicopters.

The contract was supposed to have been bid out last Monday but Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin deferred the process, following reports of alleged collusion between the technical working groups and the suppliers as revealed by Reps. Teddy Casiño and Tomas Osmeña.

Aside from the procurement of the Navy helicopters, the P3.2 billion contract for seven units of attack helicopters intended for the Air Force was also deferred for similar reason.

There were allegations that the specifications provided were tailor-fit to only one supplier, apparently the PZL Swidnik SA, said to be the largest helicopter manufacturer in Poland. The firm was the only one left in bidding for the P3.2 billion contract after five other reputable bidders backed out from the process.

Last Monday, DND-Bids and Awards Committee Chairman Assistant Secretary Ernesto Boac announced the deferment of the P3.2 billion contract for seven units of attack helicopters for the Air Force which is now in its post qualification stage and the cancellation of the scheduled bidding for P860 million helicopters for the Navy.

Boac cited statements made by Casiño and Osmeña and media reports about alleged irregularities.

“Given the specs, there certainly are other companies who can comply, but the budget that the AFP has for the helicopters could be that major delimiting cause why other bidders may have backed out as in this case,” said Arevalo.

Arevalo explained that the Navy provided the technical specifications of the helicopters considering the peculiarities of Fleet-Marine operations that require the said air assets.

“The specs originating from the inputs of the end users, like the Naval Air Group and the Sailors and Marines in the frontline, were submitted to higher headquarters thru channel — passing through the Technical Working Group to Weapons Systems Board of the Navy — all the way to similar offices at GHQ (general headquarters) going to DND,” said Arevalo

For his part, Air Force spokesman Lt. Col. Miguel Ernesto Okol maintained that the Air Force technical working group or the project management teams (PMTs) based their recommendations on the current requirements of the command.

“The project management teams that has crafted this basing to current operational requirements, has based it on flight, actual flight experience, there is old doctrines that is currently used… so they came out point by point,” said Okol.

On the alleged collusion, Okol said “those are allegations, those are speculations but the Air Force PMTs are considered professional body of young pilots, very senior in flying experience, attack pilots, as far as the attack helicopter is concerned, so they based it on doctrines and actual operational requirements.”

While both Okol and Arevalo admitted that the delay on the acquisition of much-needed helicopters was not expected, they supported the deferment move if only to promote transparency in the military procurement processes.

“The Navy, however, defers to the decision of higher headquarters for a process that may be required for the procurement of these much-needed aircraft for the Naval Air Group,” said Arevalo.

For his part, Okol said “we just look at that in a way that it is just an added procedure probably established by no less than the secretary of national defense and perhaps to put some closure into the whole activity.”

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