By INA ALLECO R. SILVERIO
Bayan Muna lawmaker Teddy Casiño is now taking up cudgels for the country’s firefighters.
After failing to get satisfactory answers and actions from both the Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP) and the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) officials, Casiño now wants Congress to investigate what he said as the “dubious termination” of a government contract amounting to P243 million ($5.65 million) for fire fighting equipment allegedly to favor some regular suppliers of the BFP.
The BFP is responsible for ensuring public safety through prevention and/or suppression of all destructive fires on buildings, houses, and other similar structures as well as forests, land transportation vehicles and equipment, ships/vessels docked at piers, wharves or anchored at major seaports, petroleum industry installations. It is the main agency tasked to enforce the Fire Code of the Philippines and other related laws. It also responsible for the conduct of investigations involving fire incidents and its causes, and for the filing of appropriate complaints or cases.
Casiño recently filed House Resolution 2104 to look into why it took the BFP bids and awards committee more than a year to award the contract to the lowest winning bidder. Casiño said the contract was arbitrarily withheld then finally scrapped by BFP officer in charge Samuel Perez upon the behest of two regular BFP suppliers, and Congress should expose the reasons behind it. He called on the Committee on Good Government and Public Accountability to immediately address the issue.
“It’s highly irregular for Perez to have delayed the awarding of the contract; and it’s more dubious still for him to have arbitrarily declared a failure of bidding on technical grounds belatedly raised in mere letters to him by two losing bidders who happen to be regular suppliers of the BFP,” he said.
Due process of bidding ignored
In October 2010, the BFP opened for bidding various fire-fighting gears, namely helmets, coats and trousers, gloves and boots. On February 11, 2011, the BFP informed Kolonwel Trading that it won the bidding, having submitted the lowest calculated bid of P242,806,753.00. This was the first time the company participated and won in a BFP bidding.
Kolonwel Trading was then asked to submit various post-qualification papers. The company complied, but on April 20, 2011, the BFP again asked for additional documents. A month later, an additional request for test results on the quality and safety of their products was made. After submitting the pertinent documents, the Bids and Awards Committee (BAC) of the BFP finally came out with a resolution on October 17, 2011 and signed by DILG secretary
Jesse Robredo awarding the procurement of said Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to Kolonwel Trading.
Two losing bidders, Panpisco Technologies, Inc. and 911 Alarm, both long-time suppliers of the BFP then wrote Perez, and soon after he withheld the awarding of the contract to Kolonwel Trading. He later on declared a failure of bidding, but this was two months after the BFP BAC issued its resolution in favor of Kolonwel.
The lawmaker explained that under the procurement law, the entire procurement process should be conducted within three months. In this particular case, he pointed out, it took a year for the BAC to complete the process due to what appears to be afterthought requirements brought to the BFP’s attention by the two losing bidders.
Circumventing the law
According to Casiño, the said suppliers did not avail of the prescribed protest mechanism as prescribed by the Procurement Law (RA 9184) but raised their concerns through mere letters to BFP Officer in Charge Samuel Perez.
In a letter to Kolonwel Trading’s lawyer, in the meantime, Perez reportedly said he was “alarmed with the accusations contained in various letters received by him on this procurement.” He also went on to say that the documents revealed “adverse findings” against Kolonwel.
The company, however, denied the findings and argued that that they had submitted all required documents and followed all pertinent policies and laws in completing their requirements.
In this matter of conflicting allegations, Casiño said the BFP’s own bids and awards chairman Ruben Bearis wrote a memorandum to DILG Sec. Robredo saying that the BFP-NHQ BAC is now in a quandary as to why the Officer in Charge of the BFP (Perez) has been allegedly refusing to award the contract to the winning bidder.
“The matter has already passed through the hands and careful scrutiny of three Bids and Awards Committees and all these three have remained consistent with its decision,” the progressive solon said. “This is akin to Atty. Estelito Mendoza pointing out the defects of a Supreme Court decision to the Clerk of Court on which basis the Clerk decides to reverse the decision. There was a clear circumvention of the procedures as laid down in the Procurement Law,” he stressed
He added that the grounds cited by Perez – delays in the opening of financial documents, an instance when Kolonwell paid its taxes manually instead of electronically, and the manner by which some documents were translated from Korean – “are overly technical to the point of being flimsy and can never erase the fact that the supplier offered the best value for money for the government, having offered the lowest bid.”
DILG Secretary helpless
Making things somewhat worse is how the DILG secretary appears to be “ helpless” when it comes to resolving the controversy. The official reportedly said that he was in a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t situation” even as he approved the questionable actions of BFP OIC Perez.
“In the meantime, our fire-fighters will have to continue doing their job in shorts, slippers and undershirts as their fire-fighting coats, boots, helmets and trousers have all been worn out,” Casiño said. “Congress should immediately look into this anomaly. It appears that our fire fighters and the public are being held hostage to the infighting and jostling for juicy contracts in the BFP.”
According to reports, the irregularity has caused more than a year’s delay in the procurement of safety gear, with the fund threatened to be reverted back to the national treasury. If the proper procedure was followed, the much-needed 4,197 sets of firefighting boots, helmets, gloves, coats and trousers would have already been distributed to firefighters all over the country, many of whom are now doing their jobs at great risk without necessary safety gear.
Kolonwel Trading has already filed a 22-page complaint against Perez and asked Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales to suspend the acting BFP chief superintendent. The company accused Perez of graft for refusing to award government contract to a winning bidder. It also said that the Ombudsman should also order Perez to take a leave of absence during the process of investigation.
Failure to release retired firemen’s benefits
This is not the first controversy to be laid at the feet of the BFP. Last year, a group of firefighters led by their group Foundation for Filipino Fire Fighters (F5) called on the agency to address the situation of retired firefighters.
An official of the foundation Van Resurreccion, said in media reports that the agency had previously failed to reveal the exact number of retired firemen who were not given their terminal leave benefits. Resurreccion also questioned the failure of the agency to release the retiree’s claims. The F5 had also charged unnamed BFP officials working in cahoots with a syndicate run by a loan shark syndicate to manipulate funds intended for the benefits of the firefighters.
In the first quarter of 2011, damages caused by fire amounted to P645 billion ($ 15 billion) while in the previous year during the same period, the costs hovered around P868 billion ($ 20.18 billion) As of September 2011, there are 645 local government units nationwide that do not have fire stations. A staggering 666 other LGUs only have old and dilapidated fire trucks. A housing survey in the BFP revealed that 70 percent of BFP personnel do not have houses of their own.