Ex-Arroyo bookkeeper arrested by Senate for contempt

Committee probing the chopper controversy says Rowena del Rosario is evasive, unbelievable.

MANILA, Philippines — Twelve senators signed the order to arrest former Lourdes T. Arroyo, Inc. (LTA) bookkeeper Rowena del Rosario for contempt in relation to her testimony on the alleged fraudulent sale of helicopters to the Philippine National Police (PNP).

Ex-LTA bookkeeper Rowena del Rosario

The decision was made after Senators Panfilo Lacson and Jinggoy Estrada moved to cite del Rosario for contempt during a hearing of the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee on Monday morning, August 22, 2011.

Del Rosario, who worked for the Arroyo-owned LTA Inc. for 11 years, supported the statement of her former boss, Negros Occidental Rep. Ignacio “Iggy” Arroyo that he leased five helicopters from Lion Air Inc.

The claim contradicts previous testimonies of witnesses, including Lion Air President Archibald Po, that former First Gentleman Jose Miguel “Mike” Arroyo purchased the choppers for his wife’s presidential campaign in 2004. Two of the helicopters in question were allegedly sold as brand new to the PNP in 2009.

“Ang pagkakaalam ko ang LTA Inc. ay umupa ng mga helicopter mula sa Lion Air Inc. Ako po ay nautusan lang ni G. Ignacio T. Arroyo bilang isang empleyado na magbayad sa Lion Air Inc. tuwing mayroong billing mula sa nasabing kompanya.” (What I know is LTA Inc. leased choppers from Lion Air inc. I was instructed by Mr. Ignacio T. Arroyo as an employee to pay Lion Air Inc. every time there is a billing from the said company.”

Rep. Arroyo was invited to the hearing but refused to attend, saying he is seeking medical treatment for liver illness in London. He criticized the probe as prosecutorial and vindictive against his family.

Del Rosario said that, upon the orders of then LTA Inc. president Rep. Arroyo, she paid Lion Air Inc. as much as P750,000 in cash for the lease. She said, however, that she kept no records of the payments.

Asked why she failed to make an accounting of the payments, del Rosario said the transactions were not company-related as the funds did not come from LTA Inc. but from Rep. Arroyo.

Diyan pa lang sa mga sinasabi mo, nagsisinungaling ka, Rowena eh,” said Estrada. “Alam mo pinaiikot-ikot mo na lang kami dito eh.” (From what you are saying, you are lying, Rowena. You’re just giving us the runaround.)

Del Rosario also initially denied knowing about the payment of $500,000 for the helicopters. However, when pressed by senators, she later recalled that Rep. Arroyo instructed her to pay the amount as “advanced rental” in 2003. The payment was documented in a wire transfer certificate.

Senators pointed out that the payment could not have been an advanced rental as it was given to US-based Robinson Helicopter Co, which sells instead of leases helicopters.

An irked Lacson said, “Sa Robinson ito, hindi sa Lion Air. Niloloko mo na naman kami. Wala kayong lease agreement with Robinson United States. Ang lease agreement ninyo na gusto niyo palabasin with Lion Air Inc. so bakit ka magre-remit ng advanced rental [sa Robinson]?” (This is Robinson, not Lion Air. You are fooling us. You don’t have a lease agreement with Robinson United States. You want to make it appear that your lease agreement is with Lionair, so why will you remit advanced rental to Robinson?)

Lion Air Inc. employee Edith Juguan, who collected payments from del Rosario, had testified that LTA Inc. paid for monthly operational expenses of the helicopters until May 2011 or seven years after the helicopters were allegedly leased.

Former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo appointed del Rosario to the board of Pag-ibig fund during her term. Del Rosario resigned from LTA Inc. in July 2011, when the alleged fraudulent sale of the choppers was exposed.

The senators who signed the order of arrest and detention for del Rosario are: Antonio “Sonny” Trillanes IV, Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III, Panfilo Lacson, Francisco Pangilinan, Sergio Osmena III, Franklin Drilon, Francis “Chiz” Escudero, Edgardo Angara, Gregorio Honasan II, Jinggoy Estrada, Teofisto “TG” Guingona III, and Juan Ponce Enrile.

The arrest order was executed by the Sergeant at Arms at quarter to 5 in the afternoon on Monday.

Del Rosario will stay in the same detention center occupied by retired Gen. Jacinto Ligot when the Senate also ordered the latter arrested for contempt earlier this year.

Blue Ribbon Committee Chairman Guingona says she will stay indefinitely at the Senate until she answers senators’ questions truthfully and satisfactorily.