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As I See It
Midnight contract for Bohol airport

By Neal Cruz
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 23:19:00 02/21/2010

Filed Under: Contracts, Eleksyon 2010, Inquirer Politics

WITH the elections only three months away, the laws already prohibit ?midnight contracts.? The election also prohibits the start of new government infrastructure projects at this time, so close to the elections. The reasons are obvious: to prevent the award of contracts to friends of the outgoing administration in ?aid of election.? Violation of this ban carries penalties of imprisonment and hefty fines.

Yet here is the outgoing administration of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo about to award a P1.52-billion (that?s billion) contract for the Panglao-Bohol Airport Development Project.

Not only that, the contract is about to be awarded not to the lowest bidder but to one of the highest bidders. Some people in this outgoing administration may be providing for their future, when they would be out of cushy government jobs.

Here is the story: For the first phase of the airport project (construction involving site grading and drainage works) the Prequalification, Bids, and Awards Committee (PBAC) invited bidders as the law provides. Eighteen bidders showed interest. Seven withdrew later, two did not show up. There were four non-complying bidders and five complying bidders. Of the latter five, First United (FUCC) had the lowest bid of P948, 106, 320.

The others had the following bids: Equiparco, P1,277.087,411.67; Sunwest, P1,498,888,888.00; Policarpio, P1,505,421,190.22; and Lao, P1, 512, 283, 791.15. The government estimate of the cost is P1, 523, 399, 203.00. Except for FUCC, which bidded less than P1billion, the four other bidders clustered tightly together near the government estimate.

This is abnormal and suspicious, according to veteran contractors. In a truly competitive bidding, they said, the bidders usually distance themselves from the government estimate. Yet here, four of the five bidders clustered around the estimate. ?This is glaring evidence of rigging,? they said. The contract would be awarded to the highest bidder of these four.

Early on, a group of bidders, claiming the blessings of top government officials, approached the other bidders and ?tried to pressure them to conspire with them and together rig the bidding. The project, they said, was ?meant to raise funds for the coming elections.?

Rebuffed, the group prevailed on the PBAC to postpone the bidding, from Jan. 25 to Feb. 5 and then from Feb. 5 to Feb. 11, although there were no compelling reasons for the postponements.

During the bidding, the favored bidder submitted the highest bid. So how would it get the award when the law says the contract should be awarded to the lowest bidder?

No problem. A way would be found, ?by hook or by crook,? to disqualify the other bidders on some technicality, they said. On the other hand, the deficiencies of the favored bidder would be overlooked. Never mind if the government stands to lose more than half-a-billion pesos. The group stands to benefit by that much.

The lowest bidder complained to this column not because he wants the contract to be awarded to him but because the laws already prohibit the awarding of contracts at this time, with the elections so near, and the administration due to step down in three months. ?Midnight contract? na ?yan,? he said.

That is correct. Any government contract awarded now would be, like midnight appointments, null and void and those who participated in it will face stiff penal sanctions. Wait until after the elections and the new administration takes over.

* * *

Agrarian Reform Secretary Nasser Pangandaman sent a letter to this column explaining his role in the land conversion order in Iloilo that allowed Sen. Manuel Villar?s real estate company to transform irrigated rice fields into a residential subdivision, which is prohibited by law. It had been revealed that Pangandaman had signed the conversion order that his predecessor refused to sign.

?I would like to point out that an application for a land conversion, covering a certain landholding for non-agricultural uses, follows a very meticulous and tedious process that requires strict compliance to the conditions set forth in the DAR Administrative Order No. 1, series of 2002, otherwise known as the Comprehensive Rules on Land Use Conversion,? he wrote.

?It is not an all-DAR affair, but a collective effort among local government units (LGUs), the Land Use and Regulatory Board (HLURB), the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), and the Department of Agriculture (DA), since an applicant would have, but not limited, to secure a number of documents from these agencies before the DAR could act on his/her application.

?The LGU is responsible for reclassifying the land from agricultural to other uses, the HLURB for approving a housing project, the DENR for issuing environmental compliance certificate and the DA for certifying that no agricultural activity is going on and that it is the only remaining food production area in the vicinity.

?It is done this way on purpose?to ensure than no single agency would have an exclusive say on an issue as critical as converting an agricultural land to other uses, if only, as you pointed out in the case at hand, ?to safeguard food production.?

?Records show that land conversion orders, particularly in that vicinity, have been issued covering several parcels of land, as early as 1995.

?This goes to show that the areas mentioned in your column had long been developed even before I came to the DAR in 2005. I must add that this is not to pass the blame to any previous managers but to point out the reality in land use in the country.?

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