Chopper crash came amid PNP plan to acquire more aircrafts

LAST Thursday’s chopper crash which nearly killed Philippine National Police chief, General Archie Francisco F. Gamboa came in the wake of the PNP plan to acquire more aircrafts this year to help improve the force’s air capability needed in countering the presence of criminals specifically international drug traffickers taking advantage of the country’s largely unguarded vast coastlines and territorial waters and speeding up police search-and-rescue operations.

Last week alone, Gen. Gamboa led the unveiling of nearly P2.8 billion worth of newly-acquired police equipment including two units of single-engine Airbus H125 helicopters aimed at further improving the ‘move, shoot, communicate and investigate’ capabilities of the 205,000-strong force nationwide. One of the victims of the helicopter crash, PNP Director for Comptrollership, Major General Jose Ma. Victor DF Ramos, also the chairman of the PNP National Headquarters Bids and Awards Committee is behind the ‘graft-free’ procurement of the new weapons and equipment.

The brand-new equipment will be distributed to different PNP national operational units regional and provincial mobile forces and police stations across the country, the PNP chief said.

But in the wake of the Laguna helicopter crash, all police aircrafts were ordered temporarily grounded  on orders of PNP Deputy Chief for Administration, Lieutenant Gen. Camilo Pancratius P. Cascolan.

Grounded was the PNP fleet of rotary-wing  Airbus H-125, Bell-429, and Robinson R-44 multi-role police helicopters.

Initially,  PNP Director for Police-Community Relations, Major Gen. Benigno B. Durana Jr. said that the helicopter crashed after an accidental contact with overhead power lines. He however said that a thorough investigation of the incident is now underway.

Gen. Cascolan also ordered the activation of the Special Investigation Task Group ‘Bell 429’ to investigate the crash. The SITG is being headed by PNP Deputy Chief for Operations, Lt. Gen. Guillermo Lorenzo T. Eleazar.

According to PNP Director for Logistics, Major General Edwin C. Roque, the two 4-seater single engine Air Bus turbine helicopters worth P225 million each, three units of 6-seater twin-engine rotary blade helicopters at P436 million each and a powerful C-293 transport plane which is a smaller version of the popular C-130 will form part of the PNP air assets this year.

Roque said that P1.8 billion worth C-293 can carry a platoon of police commandos and one Hummer transport vehicle. He said that the acquisition of the two Air Bus helicopters was planned as early as 2018.

At present, the PNP has nine aircrafts composed of eight rotary-wing and one fixed-wing aircrafts. The acquisition of three additional rotary wing helicopters this year will bring to 20 the number of police aircrafts or a 33 percent fill-up.

The PNP last year allotted roughly P1.135 billion to procure additional aircrafts and patrol boats needed to help counter the presence of international drug traffickers, kidnappers and other lawless elements in the country..

The money — P1,134,388,799.38 to be exact — will  also be used to improve the PNP’s response in any disaster or emergency situation taking place in the local seawaters, the country’s top cop told the Journal Group.”We’re beefing-up our air and sea assets to help guard against intrusions by international drug smugglers, kidnappers, pirates, poachers and other criminal elements taking advantage of the country’s unguarded long sealanes and coastal areas,” Gen. Gamboa said.

Apart from the PNP, only the Armed Forces with its Philippine Navy and Air Force and the Philippine Coast Guard have ships and patrol boats and planes and helicopters which however are not enough to guard the country’s vast irregular seawaters and coastal areas.

Both the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency and the National Bureau of Investigation are yet to acquire airplanes, helicopters and speedboats that could be used to monitor the presence of ‘mother ships’ carrying huge volume of drugs passing thru Philippine waters and intercept them at all.

The best that the country’s armed services can do when drug smugglers using powerful speedboats and high-tech ‘mother ships’ are already passing thru Philippine waters is to seek the help of foreign law enforcement agencies including the United States Drug Enforcement Administration so drug smugglers could be apprehended.

To help watch the country’s 36,000-kilometer-long coastlines against illegal intrusions, the PNP chief said that the PNP capability enhancement program has programmed more ‘floating and flying assets’ for the PNP Maritime Group and the PNP Aviation Security Group to boost police response against criminal activities in the country’s waters.

Officials said the move is also aimed at boosting police response against international drug smugglers including those behind the recent recovery of nearly P1 billion worth of cocaine in the eastern shores of the Philippines, believed to have come from vessels in the high seas of the Pacific.

More air and maritime assets also means a more effective police response in disaster or emergency situations in the sea.

The PNP Bids and Awards Committee last year also approved the procurement of 28 units of high-speed tactical watercraft amounting to P336,000,000. So far, seven of the units have been delivered to the PNP and are already being used by the police.

Another 18 more units of similar high-speed tactical watercraft are programmed under the 2019 procurement program as additional equipment for maritime operations, police visibility in the shorelines, and maritime law enforcement and public safety operations.

At present, the PNP fleet of watercraft include 107 police rubber boats, 19 coastal craft, 25 fast boats, four speed boats, and 10 gun boats or dauntless boats being used by 17 Regional Maritime Units, three  Maritime Special Operations Units, and other police maritime stations nationwide.