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DOTC staining Phl image in Europe

There’s an office at Ninoy Aquino International Airport mightier than the general manager’s. Called Pass Control, it holds sway over who is to live or die. So beware, passengers who would need land ambulance pickup at the country’s foremost — and world’s worst — airport.

Past noon the other Wednesday a Davao tycoon was to be picked up by jet ambulance, for emergency surgery of internal hemorrhage in Manila. Med-evacuations need exact timing, from delivery of patient by land ambulance at and departure of jet from airport of origin, to landing at destination, transfer to another ambulance, and hospital alerts. The jet service coordinates everything: pilots, ambulance units, flight doctors and nurses, and hospitals. But precision is of no concern to NAIA-Pass Control, manned by a private subcontractor.

Although informed in writing two hours ahead of the zip-in of a paramedic van at the NAIA Delta Gate (for general aviation), the Pass Control duty officer, one Joan V., refused entry. She demanded to be told the patient’s medical status. It must be life threatening, the jet managers said, for the tycoon’s kin had paid a tidy sum for the land-air transfers. Still, Joan V. insisted that they state it accurately in writing. To which the managers replied that if she would only interview the medical team that was in the van waiting to fly to and from Davao, then she’d get her answer.

A precious hour passed before an Airport Police officer chanced upon the ambulance at the gate, and overruled Valdez. Only then was the critical flight able to depart. It’s not clear if the delay had complicated the patient’s medical condition.

Three months ago a patient died inside a jet that had landed on time at the NAIA. Reason: for more than an hour Pass Control barred at Delta Gate the medical team that was to rush him to hospital. The deceased’s family reportedly is planning to sue.

The NAIA Authority is under the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC).

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Speaking of which, irregularities at the DOTC are blackening the Philippines before European governments and businessmen. Envoys and industrialists are complaining about anomalies in recent biddings. These include procurements like:

• P3.8 billion for new trams and refurbishing of old ones of the Metro Rail Transport (MRT-3) along EDSA, Metro Manila;

• P60 billion to extend the Light Rail Transit (LRT-1) into Cavite from Manila, with new coaches;

• P1.24 billion for modern fire trucks in international airports;

• P8.2 billion for computerized registration of new and old cars;

• P3.85 billion for land vehicle license platemaking.

In all those, European firms had submitted original proposals or sealed bids, but mysteriously were eased out. European execs also grumble about poor transport facilities that make travel around the country difficult.

Czech ambassador Josef Rychtar has exposed a $30-million extortion attempt on a Czech firm by MRT managers. As new owner of the original 1999 maker of 73 trams, the firm Inekon Corp. was offering 52 new ones, to refurbish the old, and maintain the entire lot. When Inekon execs rebuffed the illegal exaction, the MRT kicked them out of the deal and began negotiating with two Croatian competitors.

DOTC Sec. Joseph Emilio Aguinaldo Abaya announced an internal probe only in July, three months after first being told about it. And that was only because it had hit the headlines.

MRT general manager Al Vitangcol, named as chief extorter, has since returned from month-long leave. Abaya has yet to bare the inquiry result. Same with the Dept. of Justice’s parallel criminal investigation.

The MRT has since broken up the two contracts: a Chinese firm to supply and refurbish the coaches, and a firm controlled by the managers to handle maintenance.

In the LRT-1, two Filipino companies, with Chinese and European partners, offered build-operate-transfer deals. One proposed to extend the railway 16 kilometers for P56 billion, the other 17 kilometers for P58 billion, with variances in equipment and coach configurations. Instead of holding a Swiss Challenge, the DOTC plagiarized the first offer, then split the contract for awarding to two smaller firms. The first was for rail construction, P30 billion; the second for coach and equipment supply, another P30 billion. The resulting higher total of P60 billion was only for a 12-kilometer extension, with the state having to borrow the funding.

Two Spanish firms have sued DOTC officials for disqualifying them despite turning in the lowest bid for 37 aircraft-rescue fire trucks. Backed by the Spanish embassy, Iturri S.A. and Protec Fire S.A. last June had bid P984.2 million, way below the DOTC budget of P1.24 billion. But the officials gave the contract to a US firm that offered P1.16 billion.

Allegedly the Spaniards failed the specs, like “specialized chassis,” which was undefined until they raised a howl. Supposedly too their truck tires were thinner and so prone to tipping over, despite European certifications of proven performance. Abaya’s main excuse was awkward: that the Spaniards had erred in complaining to the Ombudsman, instead of to the Bids and Awards Committee.

The vehicle registration and platemaking projects have been put on hold indefinitely. This was after the discovery that the DOTC did not have the requisite Multi-Year Obligational Authority to bid them out.

Under the law, a procuring agency must first secure the MYOA from the budget department before proceeding with the bidding. Lack of an MYOA meant there was no funding for the projects to begin with, so the biddings were void.

European firms had partnered with Filipinos in both biddings last May. In the platemaking, one was Polish, two German, one Spanish, and one Dutch. They paid tens of thousands of pesos to enter the DOTC bidding, and tens of thousands of dollars more for feasibility studies; executive time, travel, and accommodations; and legal consultancies. Only the Spanish and the Dutch were declared qualified, and the last the winner. Most are seeking multimillion-peso refunds of expenses because the bidding was null from the start.

Meanwhile, Swiss ambassador Ivo Sieber has told Filipino businessmen that his compatriots watching the way government is dealing with corruption and poor transportation. Swiss execs were finding it hard to travel to their field operations, mostly in mining, cement, and telecoms. Airport authorities severely limit the schedule of private jet takeoffs and landings at the Manila airport. Ships are perilous to ride two-thirds of the year. Railway ties reportedly are so substandard that trains are likely to derail and bridges to collapse in Laguna and Quezon.

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