Abaya: Nothing irregular in CAAP fire truck bidding
MANILA, Philippines – A Spanish group that filed charges against officers of the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) after being disqualified from participating in a P1.24-billion airport fire truck procurement project failed to comply with bidding terms, according to Transportation Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya.
Abaya said Iturri S.A., partner Protec Fire S.A. also of Spain and local partner Palmer Asia gave the lowest bid for the project, but failed to comply with its terms of reference (TOR).
Following its disqualification and the denial of its motion for reconsideration, Iturri filed charges before the Ombusdman against members of CAAP's bids and awards committee (BAC) for alleged violations of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and the Procurement Reform Law. CAAP is an attached agency of the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC).
"The issue there was the chassis of the fire trucks, very clear in TOR, it should be customized chassis. I spoke to BAC chair it was clear in the papers submitted by Iturri that they were going to use commercial chassis," Abaya said, stressing there was nothing irregular about the disqualification.
The purchase of new airport fire trucks for use during emergencies is necessary to fully comply with global aviation safety standards required by the United Nations' International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), CAAP BAC chair retired Brig. Gen. Rodante Joya earlier told Rappler.
Iturri is suing Joya, BAC vice chair Abdiel Dan Fajardo, and other committee members.
The company is questioning why it was disqualified when it submitted the lowest bid for the procurement project.
CAAP bid out the supply contract for 37 units of aircraft rescue firefighting vehicles (ARFFVs), commonly referred to as airport fire trucks, in June.
Four groups participated in the bidding, but only two passed procedural and eligibility requirements – Iturri and US-based Oshkosh.
Iturri submitted the lowest bid of P984.2 million, below CAAP's approved budget of P1.239.5 billion, while Oshkosh gave an offer of P1.163.89 million, according to the BAC.
However, while the Spanish company submitted the lowest bid, Joya said it failed to pass the post-qualification evaluation done by the committee in July.
Among others, Joya said Iturri's fire trucks did not comply with the TOR, which called for "custom" or non-commercial chassis.
Joya said Iturri's trucks had commercial chassis, whose width of 2.55 meters did not comply with the ICAO- amd FAA-accepted width of 3 meters, and whose tires were "narrower."
"Unang tingin mo palang, pati gulong n'ya, ang ninipis. 2.55 meters lang ang width, tataob talaga 'yan 'pag mabilis," Joya said in a presentation made to Rappler.
(At first glance, you'll already see the tires are thin. And given that width, the truck will tilt over when running at high speed.)
Iturri asked the BAC to reconsider its decision, but the appeal was denied.
Iturri lawyer Hernan Nicdao maintained the company passed all the requirements set by the BAC.
"Iturri's fire trucks are non-commercial. There were certifications from the government of Spain and other agencies that it's non-commercial. In fact, the company was awarded the same supply contracts in Spain and other countries," Nicdao told Rappler in a phone interview.
Nicdao said a technical working group (TWG) that evaluated the bids made a recommendation to award the contract to Iturri.
"A TWG of experts including engineers was formed. They had a one-month period to deliberate on the trucks and made a recommendation to award the project to Iturri. We have a copy of that recommendation.
"Then all of a sudden, the same day a recommendation was made, the BAC convened and Mr. Joya made a counter presentation and Iturri was disqualified."
Nicdao also said the TOR only stated a "one-word" requirement for the chassis – that it should be non-commercial. No other details were given, he noted.
"Then suddenly, when they were defending their decision, they went to great lengths to define what a commercial chassis is. If that particular requirement is very, very important, that should have been properly explained in the TOR."
The transportation chief said CAAP decided to proceed with the evaluation of the other bid after Iturri failed to file a protest.
"The bidder opted not to that’s why they went to the second-lowest bid," Abaya said.
Abaya explained that clearly, Iturri and its partners failed to follow the procurement law when – after the group's motion for reconsideration was denied – it decided not to file a protest and pay the corresponding fee.
“I have not seen the case filed before Ombudsman, but the defense is that there were remedies in the procurement law but they did not avail of this," he stressed.
Nicdao admitted the group did not file the appeal because the protest fee was huge. "How can you [raise] that kind of money? And it wasn't certain we'd win."
Nicdao said the case before the Ombudsman was meant to determine any liability on the part of BAC members.
Abaya noted that only a temporary restraining order would prevent CAAP from awarding the contract to Oshkosh.
The government is upgrading airport fire trucks and other equipment to comply with global aviation safety standards.
Significant safety concerns raised by ICAO against the Philippines prompted the US-FAA to downgrade the country's safety rating to Category 2 from 1 in 2008. The downgrade has prevented local carriers from mounting additional flights and routes to the US. The ICAO concerns also prompted the European Union to ban local carriers from entering its airspace.
ICAO gave the Philippines a passing mark in a safety audit done earlier this year, paving the way for the EU to lift the ban it imposed. The Philippine government is still working on getting an upgrade from FAA. – With a report from Cherrie Regalado, Rappler.com