FIRST PERSON - Alex Magno - The Philippine Star

Graft need not have happened. The ombudsman sets new ground by designating misconduct as sufficient ground for dismissal from the service.

Earlier this month, the Office of the Ombudsman ordered the dismissal from the service of Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) national director Demosthenes R. Escoto. The order was based on a 22-page decision prepared by Graft Investigator and Prosecution Officer Cezar M. Tirol II which found Escoto guilty of grave misconduct.

It does not appear the administration will contest the ombudsman’s order. Agriculture Secretary Francisco Tiu Laurel Jr. promptly appointed career official Isidro Velayo as officer-in-charge of the BFAR. The agriculture department assured there will be no disruption in the operations and projects of this key agency responsible for overseeing the country’s exclusive economic zone.

The case stems from what appears to be an anomalous awarding of the P2-billion contract for the vessel monitoring system (VMS) project. The contract was awarded in 2018.

The case involves the purchase of technology and equipment for the first phase of the Integrated Marine Environment Monitoring System, also known as the PHILO Project. This project aims to enhance marine resource protection and combat illegal fishing by installing VMS devices in all commercial vessels above 30 tons operating in our exclusive economic zone. Transmitters and transceivers will be supplied these commercial vessels.

This project was originally supposed to be funded by way of a P1.6-billion loan from the French government. The loan, however, required bidders to be either French or part of a joint venture with a French entity.

Some serious lack of due diligence happened on the part of the BFAR. In 2017, the agency declared SRT-France the winning bidder to supply the equipment for the monitoring project.

SRT-France, it turned out, was only recently organized and had no manufacturing nor engineering facilities in France. It was merely a subsidiary of SRT-UK. That did not meet the conditions for the French loan and Paris subsequently asked that SRT-France be disqualified. The loan offer was eventually withdrawn.

In 2018, a new round of bidding was held by the BFAR with the project financed locally. The project budget was increased to P2.09 billion and awarded to SRT-UK.

Reviewing the proceedings, the ombudsman deemed that Escoto, in exercise of his function as bids and awards committee chair, “clearly gave unwarranted benefit or advantage to SRT-France and SRT-UK.”

Although the award of the contract to SRT-France was cancelled, it nevertheless remained that the BFAR gave the company unwarranted benefit to participate in the bid and be post-qualified, notwithstanding its ineligibility. This constitutes, according to the ombudsman, “willful violation of the law and established rule.”

The unwarranted benefit given SRT-France paved the way for awarding the contract to SRT-UK. In this second award, the Philippine government assumed a larger contractual obligation than initially requested for the project. The ombudsman notes that instead of procuring the originally planned 3,736 VMS transceivers, Escoto obliged government to purchase 5,000 units.

“This is a contractual obligation that is grossly disadvantageous to the government and unreasonably beneficial to SRT-UK,” the ombudsman concludes. The practical outcome of this contract is that BFAR now has many more transceivers than it needs.

The dismissal order carries the accessory penalties of cancellation of civil service eligibility, forfeiture of retirement benefits, perpetual disqualification from holding office and prohibition from taking civil service examinations. The law may be harsh, but that is the law.

This dismissal order sends appropriate warnings to all government agencies to be more circumspect in the award of contracts. There are many cases where, in the process of awarding contracts, the size of the procurement is increased.


In response to a massive Iranian missile assault involving 350 projectiles, Israel has retaliated by sending its own missiles into central Iran. The missiles had apparently succeeded in penetrating Iranian air defense and caused some damage to an army base close to some of Tehran’s vital nuclear facilities.

Following Israel’s “retaliation,” global oil prices softened. The market has clearly concluded that the Iran-Israel confrontation would likely wind down. The missile attacks by both sides were understood as well-calculated signaling exercises.

In the case of Iran, its missile assault, although massive, was well-telegraphed. Israel and her allies had every opportunity to intercept the horde of drones and missiles launched by Tehran.

In the case of Israel’s “retaliation,” Tel Aviv apparently decided against hitting Iran’s nuclear facilities. It was sufficient, for the Israelis, to demonstrate their capacity to penetrate Iran’s air defense systems. Although the missile attack on Iran was never formally acknowledged by Tel Aviv, it was convincing enough to warn Iran of the perils of escalation.

Let us hope that the global oil market is reading the situation correctly. Any escalation of the Iran-Israel confrontation could lead to a dangerous sequence no one wants.

The status quo is expected to hold. But that status quo includes Iran’s use of proxy militias in Yemen, Iraq and Syria to continue attacking Israel. This explains why, after the direct attack on Iranian territory, Israel has followed up with devastating air attacks on Iran-supported militia groups in Iraq. Tel Aviv had not relented attacking Hezbollah targets in Lebanon.

The proxy warfare continues. It is not necessarily the sort of “low-intensity” warfare that we saw in other places and in previous decades. But it remains containable.

An uncontrolled escalation could set the stage for a third world war.

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