MANILA, Philippines – Senators investigating the alleged fraudulent sale of two secondhand helicopters to the Philippine National Police said it appears that Negros Occidental Rep. Ignacio “Iggy” Arroyo did not pay taxes for the choppers he claims to have leased from Lion Air Inc.
In a hearing on Thursday, members of the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee asked former LTA Inc. bookkeeper Rowena del Rosario if then company president Iggy Arroyo or LTA Inc. paid taxes for the lease of the choppers. She repeatedly said she could not recall if taxes were paid.
Lacson pointed out that the Arroyo-owned LTA Inc. should have paid a 7.5% rental tax because the payment was made to the US-based Robinson Helicopter Co., a non-resident foreign entity. The lease agreement was worth $500,000 and Lacson said LTA Inc. should have paid government $37,500 in taxes.
“Nagtatanga-tangahan ka lang pero matalino ka eh,” Lacson told del Rosario. “Magaling ka magtanga-tangahan.” (You’re playing dumb but you are actually smart. You’re good at playing dumb.)
Del Rosario also said she did not know if taxes were payed for the monthly lease expenses as the payments came from Rep. Arroyo, and not LTA Inc.
Sen. Sergio Osmena III said, “That’s a violation of the law, not paying VAT (value added tax).”
Committee chairman Sen. Teofisto “TG” Guingona III said that tax evasion charges may be filed against Rep. Arroyo based on the testimony of del Rosario.
Senators believe Rep. Arroyo came out and claimed it was he who leased the choppers from Lion Air Inc. to protect his brother, former first gentleman Jose Miguel “Mike” Arroyo. Executives and employees of Lion Air Inc. pointed to the former presidential spouse as the owner of five Robinson helicopters, two of which were sold as brand new to the PNP in 2009.
Senators also criticized del Rosario for her inconsistent statements on the payment for the choppers. In the hearing on Monday, del Rosario said all payments did not come from LTA Inc. and were therefore “not company-related.” When the probe resumed on Thursday, however, she said the $500,000 payment for the lease of the choppers was from the account of LTA Inc.
Sen. Jinggoy Estrada also scored del Rosario for having “selective memory.” Asked about her employment history, del Rosario revealed that she became a “volunteer internal auditor” of the First Gentleman Foundation. She said she received no income from the foundation.
“Last hearing ang sabi mo kay Iggy ka lang nagtrabaho at never ka nagtrabaho kay FG. Ngayon, inamin mo naman ikaw ang internal auditor ng FG Foundation,” Estrada said. (In the last hearing, you said you only worked for Iggy and never for FG. But now you are admitting that you are an internal auditor of the FG Foundation.)
Estrada also could not believe that del Rosario was unable to recall the donors of the Foundation despite her position as internal auditor.
Then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo also appointed del Rosario to the board of trustees of the Pag-ibig Fund in March 2010, two months before the presidential election. Del Rosario admitted she knew nothing about the work of the agency but accepted the appointment because it was a “privilege.”
On Monday, 12 senators ordered the arrest and detention of del Rosario, saying her testimony was unbelievable and evasive. Guingona said she will be released from Senate custody if the senators are satisfied with her answers.
Del Rosario’s husband, Rolly, asked the Court of Appeals on Tuesday to order the Senate to release her wife from detention. Rolly del Rosario said the rights of his wife were violated and the senators acted unfairly by venting their frustration on Rowena. The Court has yet to decide on his petition for habeas corpus.