POSTSCRIPT / February 19, 2009 / Thursday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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North Harbor upgrade must proceed full speed

REFLEX RETORT: Malacanang spokesmen better shut up and not expose their ignorance on the prevalence of the illegal numbers game of jueteng in Pampanga, President Gloria Arroyo’s home province.

The President’s apologists have been in disarray after Pampanga Gov. Eddie “Among Ed” Panlilio accused Ms Arroyo of allowing jueteng operations in her own province.

While Deputy Presidential Spokesperson Lorelei Fajardo said Panlilio’s accusation did not merit a response, Execuitive Secretary Eduardo Ermmita did respond. He said the Palace will act on the problem if the governor will “substantiate his allegations.”

Ermita wants us to believe that President Arroyo is ignorant of the true situation in her own province. That is an unflattering insinuation.

The “Prove it!” reflex retort of Malacanang to any accusation is again evident in Ermita’s dare to the governor to substantiate his allegations. Fajardo also said, “This would only merit an answer from the Palace if Governor Panlilio had actual proof.”

Proof? All they have to do is go to Pampanga and deal with the cobradores masquerading at STL (Small Town Lottery) bet-takers.

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HARBOR WORKS: With the Manila regional trial court having removed the legal obstacles to the continuation of the bidding and the award of the contract for the modernization of North Harbor, work on the P10-billion-plus project should start soonest.

Further delay would be costly for all stakeholders, including the government (or the Philippine Ports Authority) and the millions of port users who deserve the best facilities and services that money and Filipino expertise can produce.

For the millions of Filipinos whose preferred and most affordable mode of going to and from the provinces in the South is by interisland vessels, North Harbor has been the golden gateway to Manila

But North Harbor, despite its being the crown-jewel of the maritime transport industry, is in a deplorable state of disrepair.

Passengers have to contend with the filth and stink, pickpockets and con artists, the decrepit buildings/facilities, and the general lack of order and systems. The structures under water have so deteriorated that they are in danger of giving way anytime.

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BIDDING OPENS: Earnest moves to upgrade Harbor Harbor to world-class started way back during the Estrada administration. Until now, nothing has moved.

The PPA has been trying hard to push modernization during the Arroyo administration, but obstructions are being strewn along the way. In May 2007, it finally issued invitations to bid. Several groups responded.

However, some of the prospective bidders either backed out or were disqualified for failing to meet requirements. In the end, the only qualified bidder left was the joint venture of the Metro Pacific Investment Corp. and the Harbor Centre Port Terminal.

When the PPA suspended the process, because there was only one qualified bidder participating, the joint venture went to the Manila Regional Trial Court to force the Authority to proceed.

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COMPROMISE OKAYED: After hearings, the Manila RTC Branch 21 ordered the PPA on Aug. 29, 2007, to release the bid documents to the MPIC-HCPT joint venture upon payment of costs and the posting of a bond, and to proceed.

But when it became clear to the parties that the process, having taken a legal detour, may drag on to the prejudice of all parties, a compromise was proposed to expedite its resolution. 

On Oct. 15, 2008, Government Corporate Counsel Alberto C. Agra cleared the draft compromise between the joint venture and the PPA, saying the formula may be given due course and submitted to the trial court for approval.

On Dec. 8, 2008, the RTC approved the compromise agreement. The first pre-bid conference was held last Feb. 5.

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NO FAILED BID: The RTC saw it fit to have the parties proceed in the interest of the general public, especially port users, even if there was only one qualified bidder left after the rigorous screening.

Under RA 9184, even a “single calculated/rated and responsive bid shall be considered for award” if it is qualified or eligible and is ready and willing to proceed. The same provision is in Section 39 of PPA Administrative Order 01-2006.

That there is only one active and responsive bidder left after the others had been disqualified or had backed out is no reason to call a failure of bidding.

Under Section 38 of PPA Order 01-2006, there is a failure of bidding only if all bidders had been disqualified, or all those who had qualified failed to submit the requirements, or if the winning bidder fails to complete the process.

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TERMS: The planned modernization of North Harbor to world-class status will be at no cost to the government. 

In fact, the government is guaranteed a fixed fee of P6.8 billion for 25 years regardless of economic conditions. The PPA will retain collection of usage, wharfage, anchorage fees, and such.

The winning bidder will reimburse the PPA some P15 million representing consultant’s success fees within 15 days after signing of contract. It will also reimburse PPA advances for past services benefits amounting to P113 million. 

But the relocation of squatters in the area is the responsibility of the PPA.

The terms of reference require that Phase I of the project be completed in the first three years and the next phase within three years after the first.

The other components of Phase 1, such as reclamation, construction of the passenger terminal, construction of additional LO-LO (Load on-Load off) berths and RO-RO (Roll on-Roll off) berths, including the development of an Information Technology system, shall be completed within three years from the start of the contract.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of February 19, 2009)

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