28 April 2010

Old Planes on DND Shop List, Says Bet

28 April 2010

P3.2 billion to buy 14 refurbished Cobra attack helicopters from Israel (photo : JetwashAviation)

MANILA, Philippines—You can’t modernize the Armed Forces of the Philippines by equipping it with 20-year-old planes and “surplus” hardware from other countries.

That was the message aired Sunday by Liberal Party (LP) senatorial candidate Ruffy Biazon after receiving what he said were reports from his “military sources” that Defense Secretary Norberto Gonzales was pushing for the “midnight” purchase of helicopters worth at least P3.2 billion.

Defense and Philippine Air Force (PAF) officials denied that Gonzales was batting for any specific purchases and said no decision had been reached on what equipment to buy.

Biazon, a representative from Muntinlupa, alleged that Gonzales was pushing for the purchase of 14 Cobra attack helicopters from Israel that “are almost 20 years old” despite complaints from the Philippine Air Force.

Biazon also claimed that Gonzales wanted to buy “surplus” Canadian aircraft for reconnaissance, other helicopters, and then refit three Army divisions “in time for the Independence Day parade.”

“Why push for second-hand aircraft when the [specifications] are not what the Air Force wanted?

This was rejected by the Air Force because they require new helicopters,” Biazon told the Inquirer.
“This looks like a supplier-driven contract and it will cost us P3.2 billion to buy those 14 refurbished Cobra helicopters,” he added.

Biazon said the PAF opposed the purchase because the Cobra helicopters were “surplus” equipment and ran only on “a single engine.” He said the Air Force wanted multiengine helicopters.
Time for Scrutiny

LP presidential candidate Sen. Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III has warned foreign governments and suppliers against entering into “midnight deals” with the outgoing Arroyo administration. He said that, if elected, he would scrap these contracts if they were disadvantageous to the government.
Biazon also pointed out that Congress would not be able to scrutinize these supposed “midnight purchases” because the country was in the middle of an election campaign.

“Also, it is the new administration that will be paying for these so why don’t we just wait after June 30?” he said.

Biazon said that Gonzales also planned to buy “surplus” Bombardier passenger-type aircraft from a Canadian airline that was no longer using them.

“We are supposed to use these as long-range patrol aircraft but I have received information that they have limited flying endurance. They last only for four hours compared to 16 hours of the US military’s P-3 Orion (reconnaissance planes),” Biazon said.

He said Gonzales also wanted to buy Kamam helicopters, which Australia purportedly had returned to its supplier “because of poor performance.”

“They are also supposed to buy new items for three Army divisions because they want these in time for June 12. They want to show off during the Independence Day parade,” he claimed.
The Air Force denied Biazon’s claims.

PAF spokesperson Gerardo Zamudio said Gonzales had left it to the Air Force to come up with the list of aircraft it deemed vital for its operations.

Buying Cobra helicopters was just among many suggestions that Gonzales raised during consultative meetings on AFP modernization, Zamudio said.

“Secretary Gonzales never dictated what the Air Force should purchase,” Zamudio said by phone, adding the PAF was still studying what aircraft to prioritize.

“The reality on the ground is that decision on the matter has yet to be made,” he said.
Agapito Lugay, Gonzales’ head executive assistant, said that during the consultative meetings held in February, two other alternative aircraft were considered aside from the Cobra helicopters.

“The secretary would never push for something that the Air Force did not approve of,” Lugay said.

“His instruction was for them to decide on the aircraft they want to acquire.”

4 Foreign Governments

A defense department source confirmed that during a meeting in February, Gonzales said he wanted to present “something new” during the June 12 parade.

“He doesn’t want only to display new uniforms for the military … but at this point I think that’s impossible because we’re too close to June 12,” the source said.

Four foreign governments are apparently pushing through with negotiations to provide the military with a “modest but lethal” external defense system.

Gonzales said talks with the French, Canadian, Korean and Israeli governments were continuing and that suspicions of “graft-ridden” deals raised by critics had not deterred those governments.

“I talked to the Canadians and asked if they were backing out after reading these reports on allegations about midnight deals,” he said in a speech before the Philippine Air Force Flying School Alumni Association Inc. on Saturday in Lipa City in Batangas.“They said, ‘Mr. Secretary, why should we? Our negotiation is within your laws. We are a reputable and respected government. You think we will engage in hanky-panky?’”

Canada was offering long-range patrol aircraft, which Gonzales said was essential to build the military’s missile capability.

“We have to have a lethal external defense capability because in the diplomatic community, we are being insulted because they think that we can do nothing when we are challenged … that’s why I am asking the Air Force to please hurry up to define what kind of aircraft they need,” he said.
Gonzales said that four nations were negotiating with him and that “two more are coming and I’m very happy.”

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