Interior and Local Government Secretary Jesse Robredo wrote me a letter answering two columns here regarding the impending purchase by the Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP) of 76 fire trucks. The columns questioned why he favors importing fire trucks when Philippine-made fire trucks are available and their kind has been used by the BFP for years without any problems. And why he favors importing more expensive fire trucks when the locally made ones are less expensive. Moreover, the local fire trucks are adapted to Philippine terrain and conditions. What happened to the Filipino First policy in the Constitution, the columns asked.
Secretary Robredo answered the controversial issues one by one. In the interest of fairness and balance, I am giving him space here.
On the issue of Robredo meddling in the affairs of the BFP when it should be its chief who has direct supervision and control of the bureau, he said:
“The Secretary of the DILG, under Executive Order 292, Republic Act 6975 (Local Government Code), and its Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR), has been given the mandate ‘to have control and supervision of all bureaus, offices and attached agencies under the Department.’”
On the issue of why Robredo reorganized the bids and awards committee (BAC) without the participation of the BFP chief, he replied:
“The reconstitution of the BFP BAC was ever since being done by the Secretary of the DILG upon evaluation/consideration of the recommendation of the BFP.”
He said the reconstitution of the BAC was due to “numerous complaints against BAC members.”
On the issue of why he designated a DILG observer in the BAC in the person of a lawyer without the approval of the BFP, Robredo said:
“To enhance transparency of the BFP procurement and address allegations of irregularities in the bidding process, I deemed it proper to name an observer under a Department Order reconstituting the BFP BAC.” He said the designation of the observer without any voting power does not violate RA 9184. “The law and its revised IRR only require the minimum number of ‘at least two observers to sit in the proceedings and that the DILG observer must be invited by the BFP BAC before he/she can attend the bidding proceedings.’”
On the reassignment of two BFP lawyers without the BFP chief’s approval and their replacement with two lawyers from the Bicol region, Robredo’s home turf, he said:
“All reassignments of BFP officers were done not without reason or basis. They were carried out in the best interest of the public service and with proper consultations with BFP. The two lawyers from the BFP NHQ were reassigned based on a standing policy that they shall serve in their posts for only two years.
“They were replaced by two career officers and most senior among BFP lawyers who are very much qualified for their assigned tasks.”
On allegations that Robredo furnished favored suppliers the technical specifications of the fire trucks to be imported, even before the public and prospective bidders were informed of the Sept. 30, 2011 BFP bidding, he said that is “completely baseless.”
“The BFP procurement was posted more than two months ago and there are already 17 prospective bidders who purchased the bidding documents, which include the technical specifications of the subject fire trucks.
“The original date of the BFP bidding was supposed to take place last Sept. 1, 2011. But according to Interior Undersecretary Rico Puno, this was reset to Sept. 30, 2011 because of the request of some congressmen. Ten bidders have already qualified for the bidding and Rosenbauer (the alleged favored supplier) did not in any way participate in it.
“During the DILG’s pre-plenary budget hearing last Sept. 12, presided by Quezon City Rep. Vincent Crisologo and attended by Agham party-list Rep. Angelo Palmones, among others, we thoroughly discussed the issues raised earlier on the BFP bidding process and the plan to procure 76 Rosenbauer fire trucks through a loan from the Austrian government.”
Robredo said he would “not recommend the approval of the loan without the 60-percent grant component and the concessional rates of interest and if it would cost the government more than P7.2 million for each Rosenbauer fire truck.”
So the picture is clear, Robredo wants to import 76 Rosenbauer fire trucks from Austria, at the expense of Philippine-made fire trucks, because the Austrian government will give us a loan for the importation, 60 percent of which is supposed to be a grant.
That is the same reason the Arroyo administration gave to a Chinese conglomerate the contract to rehabilitate the NorthRail and to import locomotives and coaches from it: the Chinese government was giving a loan for the project to the Philippine government. That project was discontinued (despite the fact that we need a functioning railroad very badly) because the project was allegedly overpriced. Some officials in the Arroyo regime are also facing charges because of it.
On the Filipino First policy, Robredo commented:
“While we adhere to the slogan Filipino First Policy under the Constitution, it neither gives exclusive right and privilege to Filipino manufacturers to be the sole bidder/supplier in the Philippine Market and exclude their foreign counterparts.
“This is explicitly provided in… the rules and regulations of the Government Procurement Reform Act which, among others, allows the participation of foreign bidders/suppliers in the procurement of foreign goods provided that Filipino ownership is at least 60 percent; and that a domestic bidder can only claim preference if it secures from the DTI a certification that part of (its) bid [is] substantially composed of materials or supplies grown, produced or manufactured in the Philippines.”