BFAR director, 4 others face graft complaint over fishing vessel monitoring system project | Inquirer News
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BFAR director, 4 others face graft complaint over fishing vessel monitoring system project

/ 12:47 PM March 02, 2022
Ombudsman BFAR graft complaint

The Office of the Ombudsman. (File photo by NIÑO JESUS ORBETA / Philippine Daily Inquirer)

MANILA, Philippines — A complaint for graft has been filed before the Office of the Ombudsman against Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) Director Eduardo Gongona and four others in connection with the P2.09 billion contract awarded to a British company to equip fishing vessels with Vessel Monitoring System (VMS) transceivers.

The complaint was filed by lawyer James Mier Victoriano against Gongona and Department of Agriculture (DA)-BFAR bids and awards committee chairpersons Demosthenes Escoto and Hansel Didulo, and Chief Executive Officer Simon Tucker and Chief Financial Officer Richard Hurd of SRT Marine Systems Solutions Ltd.

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Victoriano asked the Office of the Ombudsman to charge the respondents for violations of Sections 3(e), 3(g), and 3(j) of Republic Act No. 3019 or the  Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act; Sections 30, 34, 65(c), and 65(d) of RA No. 9184 or the Government Procurement Reform Act; and Section 23.6 of the Revised Implementing Rules and Regulations of RA No. 9184.

The complaint was received by the Office of the Ombudsman on Tuesday.

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In his complaint, Victoriano noted that the initial invitation to bid in 2017 for the Integrated Marine Environment Monitoring System Project Phase II stated that the project was to be funded by the French Republic and through a loan agreement. He said the initial invitation to bid had an Approved Budget for the Contract (ABC) of P1.6 billion.

According to Victoriano, the loan agreement required that the bidder must be either a French national or possess a joint venture agreement with a French national, and that the goods must be of French origin.

“Despite the requirement, SRT participated in the bid and was declared by DA-BFAR to be eligible and eventually won the bid. In fact, upon assessment by the French government, through its embassy, it found that SRT was not eligible owing to it being a British company,” he said.

Victoriano said it is clear that DA-BFAR did not comply with the conditions provided in the initial invitation to bid and would have continued with the award if not for the disapproval by the French government.

Because of the disapproval by the French Republic, BFAR then sought the approval of the National Economic Development Authority to cancel the loan agreement and proceed with the procurement for the project using local funding.

BFAR then conducted the last bidding in October 2018, this time with an ABC of P2.09 billion, which the SRT eventually won in November in the same year.

Meanwhile, Victoriano also pointed out that DA-BFAR’s Administrative Circular (AC) 253 series of 2014 and AC 253-1 series of 2018 imposed a moratorium on catcher vessels “such that the only change in the catcher vessel population covered by the circulars is a reduction and not additions thereto starting 2014.”

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“However, in IB No. 2018-19, DA-BFAR required 5,000 VMS transponders or an excess of 3,200 units. In an earlier bidding, i.e., IB No. 027-17, only 2,500 units of two-way transponders were required. The 2,500 units appear reasonable to sufficiently cover the 1,800 vessels beyond 30 gross tons with an allowance for replacements for defects or warranties,” he said.

“The excess units (2,500 units at the minimum and 3,200 units at the maximum) represents an excessive purchase requirement and would increase the ABC (Approved Budget for the Contract) for the Project. The incremental cost of the excess VMS transponders would range between P250,000,000.00 to P320,000,000.00,” he added.

Victoriano said SRT “is expected to unduly benefit from the Project after the lapse of the Project duration, on 04 December 2021, in view of the revenues as service provider cost of satellite subscriptions required for tracking and ERS information.”

The complainant said the respondents’ “illegal acts” in knowingly awarding the project to an ineligible bidder which resulted in the loss of foreign assistance loan and consequently the increase in the needed costs for local funding of the Project; modifying the terms of the procurement of VMS transceivers for the project, which result in an excessive purchase requirement; and the “apparent unsustainability and excessiveness” of the awarded procurement, are sufficient bases to hold them criminally liable for the said charges.

INQUIRER.net sought the comment of Gongona regarding the complaint but has yet to receive a response as of posting time.

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TAGS: BFAR, Eduardo Gongona, James Mier Victoriano, Office of the Ombudsman, SRT Marine Systems Solutions Ltd., Vessel Monitoring System
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