Nationalist People’s Coalition (NPC) Congressman Sherwin Gatchalian scored the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) for putting firefighters and the general public at risk by unduly delaying the procurement process for P3.8-billion worth of fire trucks, fire fighting equipment, and new fire stations.
Gatchalian was reacting to the latest Commission on Audit (COA) report pointing to the DILG’s meddling in the procurement deals of the Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP) as the reason for the delays in government efforts to modernize the country’s fire fighting and protection service.
According to the COA, the construction of more than 500 new fire stations and purchases of new fire trucks and fire fighting equipment were supposed to have started in Jan. 2012 but the DILG dilly-dallied on the bidding process for two and a half years. Administration presidential candidate Manuel “Mar” Roxas II was the DILG chief during that period.
“By dilly-dallying on the procurement process, the DILG is compromising the safety not only of the country’s firefighters but also of the general public,” said Gatchalian.
The Valenzuela City lawmaker added: “It is unfortunate that the DILG did not take into consideration the fact that there is a shortage of 1,538 fire trucks and that until now there are 425 municipalities which have no fire stations.”
The COA said the intervention of the DILG in the BFP’s procurement process was in violation of Section 11 of Republic Act No. 9184 or the Government Procurement Reform Act, which provides that it is the procuring entity—in this case the BFP itself—that should have constituted its own Bids and Awards Committee to handle its own procurement.
Gatchalian said the baffling delay of almost three years could be an indication that “something fishy was going on”.
“I will not buy the argument that it is just a simple case of government under spending. There has to be an acceptable explanation as to why the DILG sat on the procurement process when there is an urgent and compelling need for the BFP to upgrade its facilities and equipment,” Gatchalian said.
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Gatchalian lamented that the lack of facilities and equipment in the country’s fire service has resulted in longer response times by firefighters, causing more casualties, injuries and property damage.
The COA report, which was released on Sept. 29, 2015, found out that the national government gave the BFP funds totaling P3,861,102,675 for its modernization plan broken down as follows:
– P2.59 billion was earmarked by the national government for 244 units of fire trucks with one thousand-gallon capacity and 225 units with five hundred-gallon capacity;
– P1.01 billion for the construction of 516 fire stations;
– P194.48 million for new self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) and other protective gear; and
– P65.87 million for additional vehicles and fire fighting equipment.
The DILG issued Department Order No. 2013-12 dated Jan. 8, 2012 taking over the bidding process from the BFP after allegations of irregularities surfaced in the earlier attempts to bid out the contracts in Aug. 2011.
The procurement deals, however, did not proceed until July 22, 2014 when the DILG-Bids and Awards Committee issued Resolution No. 09 (G) turning over the fire truck deal back to the BFP saying, “the BFP has the technical expertise in the subject procurement.”
Immediately, invitations to bid were published in national newspapers on Aug. 27, 2014, pre-bid conference was held on Sept. 3, 2014 and the opening of bids took place on Oct. 17, 2014. As of year-end 2014, the BFP still has not seen even a single delivery of fire trucks.
Among the much-delayed fire fighting items are 9,000 pairs of fire boots; 6,741 helmets; 7,628 pairs of protective mittens; fire hoses, nozzles, office computers, and spare parts for broken down fire trucks.
The COA said firefighters often have to respond to emergencies without even the basic protective gear. There were times BFP personnel had to borrow supposedly personal equipment like boots and gloves.
Of 861 firefighters of BFP in 2014, there were only 188 SCBA’s and 784 fire-protected boots. The COA report likewise noted the shortage of 1,538 fire trucks and 426 municipalities without fire stations. (R. Burgos)