POSTSCRIPT / June 18, 2000 / Sunday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Lowest bidder in P4.8B Batangas port cries foul

IF Malaysia wants to buy the freedom of some of the 21 kidnap victims being held by the Abu Sayyaf, let it pay the ransom. After all, the abduction is a Malaysian problem.

The kidnapping that has caused us untold losses in lives, time, resources, and international prestige was committed in a Malaysian resort. It just so happened that the kidnappers were Filipinos and they crossed the sea and took their victims to Sulu.

The correct attitude should be that we’re just helping Kuala Lumpur solve its problem.

* * *

WHAT Malacañang should worry about is that we might wake up one morning to learn that foreign commandos penetrated the Abu Sayyaf lair in the night and rescued some or all of the Caucasian hostages.

We would never be able to live that down.

On a related issue, a Malacañang official who looked like Executive Secretary Ronaldo Zamora came up with the bright idea that we establish a consulate in Sabah to look after the 500,000 or so Filipinos living in that corner of Borneo.

Has it not occurred to him that we put up embassies and consulates only in foreign lands? May we remind him that we have not dropped our claim on Sabah and that we still consider it as Philippine territory.

Putting up a consulate there would be a declaration that the Philippines considers Sabah to be part of Malaysia. Instead, why don’t we borrow the Taiwan myth and put up simply a business or cultural office in Sabah to look after our compatriots in the area?

* * *

THE sultan of Sulu, the legal and historical owner of Sabah (formerly known as North Borneo) to whom the British company running the place was merely paying rent, had formally transferred to the Philippine government his sovereign rights to the territory while retaining property rights.

It is clear to Malaysia that we have not dropped our claim, and that we are not pressing it at the moment to help cultivate friendlier relations with Kuala Lumpur.

But if official Malaysia is trying to be difficult, or even obnoxious, on many bilateral issues, by all means let’s start making noise about our Sabah. Internally, this is the right timing for it.

* * *

WE’RE not that helpless, if only we would unite and put our minds to it. Let’s strike a deal with the mainstream Bangsamoro force for them to take Sabah by whatever means and we give it back to them as an autonomous region or a federated state.

Another option is to keep beefing up the Filipino population in Sabah and, at the right time, agitate for a United Nations-supervised referendum like they did in East Timor. Our dagdag-bawas artists will have a chance to do something patriotic, for a change.

It’s been only recently that Malaysia emerged from the wilderness. They don’t even have the imagination or the backbone to shrug off their dictator’s yoke. Yet, for a long time now, Malaysia has been slapping us around. Akala mo sino na sila.

* * *

SHOULD big government contracts be awarded always to the lowest bidder? The question appears to be the central issue in the controversial bidding for the P4.8-billion second phase of the upgrading of the Batangas Port.

Five months after the bidding last January, the Philippine Ports Authority appears still groping for a justification to give the contract not to the lowest bidder, but to the second. The issues have been beclouded, meanwhile, by charges that a presidential crony is rigging the process.

PPA general manager Juan Peña and the PPA board are scheduled to meet Tuesday to smooth out complications. Sensing he is about to be robbed of the contract, the lowest bidder has asked to be allowed to plead his case before the board.

Watch it. A scandal involving Batangas Port may spill over and derail a bigger PPA project — the privatization and modernization of North Harbor in Manila.

* * *

A CONSORTIUM led by construction mogul F.F. Cruz submitted the lowest bid of P2.8 billion for the civil works expected to last three years. Second lowest bid of P2.9 billion was filed by a partnership of Hanjin Heavy Industries (Korean) and Conokei Construction (Japanese).

With a price difference of some P90 million between their bid and that of Hanjin-Conokei, Cruz’s group naturally feels it should get the contract. But some PPA officials said the ground rules favor not necessarily the lowest bidder, but the “lowest qualifying bidder.”

Aside from the peso bid, according to some PPA officials, there are technical details where a bidder must prove itself qualified and superior to the rest.

* * *

SOME of the qualifying details where Cruz reportedly earned lower points were:

  1. Construction period — In its bid, the Cruz consortium undertook to complete the project in 1,095 days, while the Hanjin-Conokei team promised 1,080 days, or 15 days shorter.
  2. Personality of bidder — The lowest bidder first submitted itself as a tandem of F. F. Cruz and Shimizu, a Japanese firm. But it is now reportedly representing itself as that combination plus a new third partner, FilSystems, not involved in the bidding.

These and other points are being brought up by some PPA officials ostensibly to impress upon everybody that aside from the peso bid, there are other qualifying points where bidders must score high.

* * *

CRUZ maintains that these technical deficiencies are mere clerical details that do not substantially erode the qualifications of the lowest bidder.

Bidding committee members are being pressured reportedly to sign an evaluation report favoring the second lowest bidder. Four of the eight committee members refused to sign but two of them reportedly have succumbed to pressure.

The superior of the project consultant wrote the PPA last April 24 saying that some issues being raised against the lowest bidder — the currency exchange rate and the 15-day construction overrun — could be adjusted after a clarificatory meeting with the bidder.

But the letter was reportedly withdrawn after two days, some say upon pressure by parties close to Malacañang.

* * *

SENSING a scandal, a member of the bidding committee also recommended that a meeting with the lowest bidder be held instead of embroiling the process in a prolonged unproductive debate.

He also lamented the failure of the PPA management to disclose the letter of the superior of the project consultant expressing concern over the conduct of the bidding. He said that the letter, if made known, could have affected the committee evaluation.

A member of the bidding committee member, a certain Mr. Miole, who refused to sign the report favoring the second lowest bidder is allegedly being banished from the Metro Manila office.

* * *

READING Postscript last Thursday was like solving a cryptogram, because some letters came out as strange-looking symbols. We were not trying to be funny. It was just that my computer that day and that of the STAR were not on the same wavelength.

To make sure you got the first paragraph right, we’re repeating it here with the hope that no strange symbol mars the text this time: “Taipan Lucio Tan is selling Philippine Airlines for something like $800 million — with his smaller airline, Air Philippines, thrown in.”

* * *

(First published in the Philippine STAR of June 18, 2000)

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