MANILA, Philippines - Controversial Local Government Undersecretary Rico Puno sought exemption of an arms deal from public bidding for the purchase of nearly P400 million worth of rifles for the Philippine National Police (PNP).
Puno said during a House budget hearing that the PNP would next procure long firearms “with military specifications” after awarding a contract to a winning bidder for the supply of 59,000 Glock pistols costing more than P1 billion.
“We are asking for exemption from the procurement law (which requires public bidding) so we can do a negotiated contract (for the rifles),” he said.
Puno identified one potential supplier as Israeli Military Industries (IMI).
He said the short firearms supply deal went to the second lowest bidder “after the lowest bidder, which offered the Israeli pistol Jericho, was disqualified.”
“We expect the winning bidder to deliver the firearms in one year,” he said.
Puno did not say why he was proposing a negotiated contract for the supply of rifles, where he was seeking exemption – whether from the Office of the President or another agency, and why the lowest bidder for pistols was disqualified.
The hearing panel, headed by Quezon City Rep. Vincent Crisologo, did not ask questions about the details of the procurement deal.
According to an ABS-CBN report, Puno together with some police officers tried to raid the condo unit and offices of the late Local Government Secretary Jesse Robredo in search of some documents.
The report said Robredo, before his death, was looking into two procurements of assault rifles for the PNP worth P178 million and P213 million.
Documents obtained by the television network show that Puno traveled to Israel upon the invitation of weapons manufacturer IMI.
According to the documents, Puno’s group left for Israel on May 10, the same date of the second pre-bid conference for the purchase of pistols.
Puno was accompanied by former PNP Special Action Force chief Leocadio Santiago, Reynaldo Espineli, owner of a defense and security company, and Puno’s consultant, Ramiro Lopez III.
Lopez is said to have accompanied Puno when the undersecretary went to Robredo’s office at the National Police Commission a day after the plane crash on Aug. 18.
The report cited a possible conflict of interest since Puno and Lopez were both members of the bids and awards committee.
Espineli and IMI won the bid for assault rifles out of seven bidders. Espineli also participated in the bidding for pistols.
The documents claim the specifications of the assault rifles seem to have been amended to favor a particular bidder.
Robredo initially sought a review of the price for the assault rifles.
But while the bidding process was suspended, Robredo still wanted to hold some officials accountable for pushing the deal.
The investigation into the alleged irregularities in the PNP’s procurement of arms and ammunition being conducted by Robredo was about the “process” and not the “person,” Malacañang said yesterday.
“From what I understand, the investigation is on what happened to the transaction and not centered on a specific person, it’s on the process that took place… Let’s just hold off on that first… because what they are discussing now is… there are vacancies that need to be filled and the incoming secretary has to be confirmed first,” deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said over radio dzRB.
According to Valte, the President had confirmed that he ordered Puno to secure the office of Robredo and saw nothing irregular if Puno went to Robredo’s condominium unit in Quezon City with some policemen.
“Security still had to be maintained and that’s the shortest answer to that,” Valte said when asked why Robredo’s place was already secured even if it was not yet sure that he was dead.
“Since the President was the one who gave the order, it was PSG (Presidential Security Group) that followed… Let’s draw the distinction. I just want to be emphatic about this. The President ordered the sealing of the offices of Secretary Robredo. I believe there are three – the one in DILG (Department of the Interior and Local Government), the one in Napolcom (National Police Commission), and one in (Camp) Crame (PNP headquarters). So the President ordered the sealing of those three offices and, to my knowledge, nothing more,” Valte explained.
Valte also said that the Palace would not meddle in the investigation that Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago would like to launch to determine those who were allegedly behind Puno.
“Any investigation that is called upon by a senator is within their powers. That’s in aid of legislation,” she said.
Valte also noted that it would be best to wait for any announcement from the President when asked if Puno should take a leave of absence.
President Aquino announced in Russia that Puno would likely be replaced by PNP chief Director General Nicanor Bartolome.
The President told reporters that he would ask Bartolome to retire earlier than scheduled in March.
Firearms procurement a ‘done deal’
Meanwhile, the procurement for 59,904 units of 9mm firearms worth P1.98 billion is considered a “done deal,” a ranking police official confirmed.
According to PNP Bids and Awards Committee chairman Deputy Director General Emelito Sarmiento, the “notice of award” to the winning bidder has already been signed by Bartolome.
This will be followed by “contract signing,” a “notice to proceed,” and the actual delivery.
The delivery period will be within 570 days, with the first delivery made in 150 days, the second and third deliveries within 120 days each, and the 4th and last delivery made 90 days later.
Sarmiento, however, admitted that the PNP-BAC must also resolve all motions for reconsideration filed with the committee concerning the firearms deal.
“We have to resolve all motions for reconsideration but as of now, it seems all the motions have been acted upon. We will make sure all issues are settled before the actual awarding of the contract,” he said.
PNP spokesman Chief Superintendent Generoso Cerbo Jr. maintained the P1.198-billion firearms procurement was done in a very transparent manner and followed all the procedures strictly.
Last June 28, R. Espinelli’s joint venture with the IWI won the open bidding with the lowest offer of P16,254 for each Jericho 941PL gun or a total of P973,679,616 for 59,904 pieces of 9mm.
But R. Espinelli was eventually disqualified for failure to meet the documentary requirements.
The second lowest bid came from Trust Trade, which offered to supply 9mm Glock 17-Generation 4 guns at P16,659.76 each or a total of P997,997,045.76.
The head of the BAC secretariat noted, the PNP was able to save P200 million from the P1.198 billion allocated budget.
According to former Isabela Gov. Grace Padaca, Robredo was able to bring down the price for the pistols from P27,000 to P16,900 per firearm.
Robredo was able to save P10,100 apiece, or nearly P600 million for 59,000 pistols.
Padaca was a close friend and a Liberal Party mate of the late local government secretary.
About 65 percent of law enforcement agencies worldwide, from Belgium, Germany, Denmark and other first world countries are using Glock. – With Aurea Calica, Cecille Suerte Felipe