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Cops in helicopter deal plead not guilty

MANILA, Philippines - Ten police officers pleaded not guilty yesterday to charges of graft involving the purchase of used helicopters at brand-new prices.

The 10 face charges before the Sandiganbayan together with former first gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo.

The helicopters were purchased by the Philippine National Police (PNP) in 2009.

Those arraigned were PNP Deputy Director General Jefferson Soriano, Directors Romeo Hilomen and George Piano; Chief Superintendents Herold Ubalde and Luis Saligumba; Senior Superintendents Edgar Paatan, Mansue Lukban, and Larry Balmaceda; Chief Inspector Maria Josefina Vidal Recometa, and Senior Police Officer 3 Ma. Linda Padojinog.

Assisted by counsel, they presented themselves before the Sandiganbayan’s Fifth Division and denied the accusations filed against them. Trial will begin with a preliminary conference scheduled on Sept. 5.

Four other respondents – Director Ronald Roderos, Senior Superintendent Job Nolan Antonio, and Superintendents Roman Loreto and Ermilando Villafuerte – will be arraigned on the same day.

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Four of the accused including Arroyo, PNP Director Luizo Ticman, Senior Superintendent Claudio DS Gaspar Jr. and Hilario de Vera of the Manila Aerospace Products Trading Corp. (MAPTRA), were arraigned ahead of the others because of motions to travel that could not be granted unless the Sandiganbayan first acquires jurisdiction over them.

Former PNP chief Jesus Verzosa is the only respondent who has not yet been arraigned because of his pending petition for certiorari questioning his indictment before the Supreme Court.

Arroyo and the PNP officials are facing graft charges for allegedly causing undue injury to the government because of the anomalous purchase of two second-hand Robinson Raven I helicopters that were passed of as brand new units, thus resulting in an overprice of at least P34.63 million.

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