MANILA - Disaster-preparedness officials warned Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro about the possibility of widespread flooding this year, but the presidential aspirant apparently miscalculated when he did not act quickly on purchasing life-saving equipment.
In particular, officials of the Office of the Civil Defense (OCD) had urged and advised Teodoro to immediately order the procurement of rescue boats for the expected flooding in different parts of the country.
But for some reason, the potential standard-bearer of the ruling party decided the procurement could wait.
Documents obtained by abs-cbnnews.com/Newsbreak from the OCD showed that the emergency purchase of rigid-hull inflatable boats was being pushed to Teodoro as early as February this year to prepare the country for more flash floods.
But the defense chief, who also chairs the National Disaster Coordinating Council (NDCC), wanted the purchase to be done through regular bidding, which has prolonged the procurement.
And then the deluge brought by tropical storm "Ondoy" came along.
As thousands of Metro Manila residents cried for rescue at the height of Ondoy’s fury, rescue and relief officials were hampered by lack of rubber boats in saving people who were trapped by the flash floods. Many residents complained that it took rescue officials hours to respond to their distress calls.
Some residents, frustrated by the delay, bought their own rubber boats, while others improvised with inflatable beds or Styrofoam-made devices. Unofficial reports said that the Navy has only around 20-30 rubber boats.
Ondoy claimed around 200 lives, many of them from drowning. While Metro Manila and nearby provinces had yet to recover from the disaster, tropical depression Pepeng followed, inundating many areas in northern Luzon. Pepeng has claimed over 300 lives.
Early this year, the OCD, as the implementing arm of the NDCC, sought the emergency procurement of rubber boats following the typhoons and floods that occurred all over the country in 2008.
This was also prompted by the numerous requests from local government units (LGUs) for rescue equipment, especially those that had experienced flooding and those in flood-prone areas.
The casualties convinced disaster-preparedness officials of the need for an emergency procurement.
In the first two months of this year alone, the OCD recorded 36 incidents of flash floods affecting more than 277,000 families or 1.3 million persons in 31 provinces.
Records from the OCD showed that as of Dec. 2008, its stock of rubber boats had been depleted to zero. A total of 182 rubber boats were distributed to LGUs and to government agencies and non-government organizations in 2008.
In Metro Manila, one inflatable rubber boat each was given to the LGUs of Malabon and of Taguig City.
In Ilocos and in Cagayan, among the regions hardest hit by Pepeng, Pangasinan, Ilocos Norte, Ilocos Sur, Isabela, Nueva Vizcaya and Quirino got one rubber boat each. Collectively, these provinces have 106 flood-prone towns identified by the NDCC.
Cagayan, which has 27 municipalities prone to floods, got 11 rubber boats.
Region 3 (Central Luzon) and Region 4-A (Southern Tagalog), which also suffered Ondoy’s ferocity, got 30 rubber boats for the two regions' 200 flood-prone municipalities.
Another report of the OCD showed that of the 949 flood-prone municipalities, only about 3 percent have been provided with rigid-hull rubber boats.
Fears of LGUs of more destructive floods have heightened the demand for more rubber boats.
Delayed P50-million emergency purchase
In February 5, 2009, a memorandum for Teodoro from OCD Administrator Glenn Rabonza sought the purchase of rubber boats to replenish the OCD’s zero stock.
What the OCD wanted to procure then was a rigid-hull inflatable boat (RHIB) with outboard motors, which costs around P1 million each. The RHIB is preferred over the ordinary inflatable rescue boat because it is more sturdy and reliable in flash floods.
Rabonza said that from previous discussions, P50 million had been earmarked for the project. “This is considered priority in view of the numerous outstanding LGU requests and as a preparedness measure for the rainy season,” Rabonza told Teodoro in the memorandum.
To fast track the procurement, an undated resolution by the Bids and Awards Committee (BAC) recommended the adoption of alternative modes of procurement for rigid-hull inflatable rubber boats “to support the disaster management and response operation in preparation for the rainy and typhoon season.”
In view of “exceptionally urgent and necessary in nature” for the OCD to respond to disaster management requirement,” the BAC supported a negotiated procurement or direct contracting.
LGUs have the calamity fund, at 5 percent of their budget, for the purchase of rescue equipment, but their hands are basically tied when it comes to the use of the fund. The Local Government Code states that LGUs can only use it once a state of calamity is declared in their localities.
Thus, rescue equipment like inflatable rubber boats are normally provided by the OCD.
Confused over decision
Rabonza had asked permission from Teodoro if the OCD could resort to negotiated procurement or direct contracting, citing a provision in the Procurement Law which allows such methods in cases of “imminent danger arising from natural or man-made calamities or other causes where immediate action is necessary to prevent damage to or loss of life or property…”
An OCD official, who asked not to be named for lack of authority, said the negotiated procurement or direct contracting options were pushed “because time was of the essence.”
“Based on experience, the entire process under a regular bidding will take 8 months…from the time the bid is announced to the delivery of the equipment. If we undertake regular bidding, we would have lost valuable time,” the OCD official said.
To be fair to Teodoro, the OCD official said the defense chief approved the allocation for the rubber boats. But his last-minute decision to resort to regular bidding further delayed the procurement of rubber boats.
In his marginal note to Rabonza in the letter, Teodoro apparently gave his go-signal, but he also indicated that he preferred regular bidding. “Why can we not bid and have delivery within 4 months?” Teodoro asked.
This confused the OCD as to what Teodoro really wanted.
No rubber boats up to now
In insisting for a public bidding, was Teodoro just being prudent with government spending or was it a case of misplaced priority?
We called Rabonza’s mobile phones and sent text messages to him, but as of posting time, we have yet to get a reply.
Failing to decipher what Teodoro really wanted, the OCD official said the purchase of the RHIBs was set aside. In the meantime, requests from LGUs even before Ondoy and Pepeng for rubber boats persisted.
In a phone interview, Bulacan Governor Joselito Mendoza said he requested 1 rubber boat from the Department of National Defense (DND) last August to augment the existing rescue equipment of the provincial government. “They promised us to give us but until we have yet to get one,” he said.
Another DND source said Teodoro earlier downplayed the purchase of the RHIBs because at that time, there was no imminent threat to lives.
Ondoy proved him wrong, and disaster preparedness officials are now in a hurry to procure RHIBs. -- by Aries Rufo, with reports from Jesus Llanto, Newsbreak