Failed bidding in Air Force's 21 refurbished Hueys

MANILA, Philippines — The third bidding for the much-needed 21 refurbished Huey combat utility helicopters of the Philippine Air Force has failed. The lone bidder submitted on Friday, September 6, documents that did not meet the requirements for the P1.26-billion contract.

"Honestly, I am really saddened. We get 20 typhoons a year and this (Huey or UH-1H) is one of the primary equipment the Philippine Air Force needs to perform its functions. The need is urgent. It is unfortunate," said Fernando Manalo, defense undersecretary for finance, munitions, installation and materiel.

The lone bid was submitted by a joint venture company between the US-based Rice Aircraft Services Inc and the Canada-based Eagle Copter Ltd. Some documents turned out to be unsigned. In one document, the signature was questioned.

"The discrepancies committed are beyond repair," said Manalo. The lone bidder initially sought the Bid and Awards Committee to reconsider its decision but eventually withdrew it.

Philippine Air Force Vice Commander Maj Gen Raul Dimatatac says they will pursue the project. "We need 96 based on our table of equipment. Our gap is 75. That's big. UH-1 is not only a combat utility helicopter. We need it for various roles," Dimatatac said. 

They may opt for a negotiated bidding, an option allowed after at least two failed competitive public biddings. Under a negotiated bidding, companies will be invited to submit proposals. The government agency will study the proposals, select the best one, and then begin the negotiations. 

Manalo vowed they will make the process transparent. 

Why Huey?

The UH-1H is a Vietnam war combat ulility helicopter but both Dimatatac and Manalo, formerly with the Air Force, say it is the best choice considering the capability of the Air Force and government's budgetary constraints.

"We get 20 typhoons a year. It is very effective. We can use it for rescue and relief operations," said Manalo. He maintained that spare parts and material for the UH-1H will be available in the next 20 years.

Air Force pilots are very familiary with the Huey, Dimatatac added. "To exaggerate, you can bring us to the helicopter blindfolded and we can tell you all the parts. We are that familiar with the Huey. Pilots can listen to the machine and we know if there's a problem and what," he said.

"We are acquiring refurbished Huey helicopter. It is cheaper. If we had the money, we want to get the newer ones," Dimatatac added.

Funds about to expire

The Department of National Defense (DND) is pressed for time, however. The budget allocation expires in December. 

"That will be a major challenge," said Manalo. "We know that we have a limitation as far as the validity of the funds. But we will not allow that the funds will expire because there is no contract we are able to enter into," said Manalo.

The funding is outside the fresh P75-billion allocation for the Armed Forces of the Philippines' modernization fund. 

The DND was initially gearing to negotiate the bid after the second bidding failed. It called for a third bidding after 14 groups signified interest to bid and 8 bought bid documents worth P75,000. 

But it was only the joint venture of Rice Aircraft and Eagle Copters that ended up submitting bid documents on Friday, September 6. 

THIRD ATTEMPT: Fourteen groups signified interest to join bidding for 21 refurbished Huey but only one ended up submitting documents. Photo by Carmela Fonbuena/Rappler

THIRD ATTEMPT: Fourteen groups signified interest to join bidding for 21 refurbished Huey but only one ended up submitting documents.

Photo by Carmela Fonbuena/Rappler

"It appeared to us that there were about 14 proponents who were interested to participate. It will be very very hard for any bids and awards committee to engage in a negotiation with 14 proponents. It will be chaos. So we decided that we do it through public bidding," said Manalo. — Rappler.com