Agriculture officials call plunder raps 'nuisance', 'harassment'

January 6, 2010 11:36 pm 

By Lilybeth G. Ison

MANILA, Jan. 6 — Officials of the Department of Agriculture (DA) on Wednesday evening asserted the legality to acquire state-of-the-art multi-functional postharvest facilities for farmers and fisherfolk.

At the same time, they expressed hope that the Office of the Ombudsman would promptly dismiss what they called a mere "nuisance" or "harassment" suit the plunder charge that had been filed by Pamalakaya in connection with this project.

The DA officials also suspected that the plunder charge against Secretary Arthur Yap and officials of the DA-attached National Agribusiness Corp. (Nabcor) was orchestrated by "one group notorious for extorting money from winning bidders by joining government biddings and then filing trumped-up fraud charges against the eventual winners."

They said the department and Nabcor were compiling evidence against the shady group behind Pamalakaya’s filing of the plunder charge before the Office of the Ombudsman and would expose its shakedown activities at the proper time.

"Pamalakaya can do its worst. I will continue to do my best as agriculture secretary. I was never a part of the procurement process as I am neither the chairman nor president of Nabcor. Not a single piece of evidence can show that I had intervened in the procurement process," said Yap.

He said that the procurement of Nabcor of brine freezing machines was "aboveboard" and went through public bidding under Republic Act 9184.

This new technology — the Liquid Quick Freeze (LQF) method — is a local invention developed by Hermie Decena.

"The complaint is a harassment suit and has no legal leg to stand on. The question is not whether or not the procurement was forthright. The question is, who is funding the harassment effort?," said Yap.

"We have information that a party, who is not even a bidder, but makes its money by joining biddings then extort money from its co-bidders to be bought out, is behind the effort. We are compiling evidence against that group and will expose them at the proper time," he said.

Yap also urged the Office of the Ombudsman "to study the complaint and in an act of justice, dismiss the same as soon as possible."

On the other hand, Nabcor spokesperson Kathyrin Pioquinto said Pamalakaya’s plunder suit did not have any legal leg to stand on as it was based only on "outrageous, malicious and politically motivated accusations that are obviously meant to thwart a laudable and legitimate project that aims to substantially promote the welfare of our farmers and fisherfolk and help revolutionize Philippine agriculture and fisheries."

"This is nothing but a politically motivated publicity stunt," said Pioquinto, "as this purported fisherfolk organization was just parroting all the baseless allegations that one businessman had peddled in his complaint before the Office of the Ombudsman" as regards the P455.2-million government contract to procure 98 units of multi-functional ice-making machines.

"This Nabcor project, which is part of the heightened DA program to build postharvest facilities for farmers and fisherfolk along with other agriculture sector stakeholders, is aboveboard and the public bidding was done in keeping with all processes required under the law," she said.

Pioquinto earlier questioned the move by the complainant — a certain Allan Ragasa — to include Yap in the graft complaint because the DA secretary "had nothing to do whatsoever with this project as he is not a member of the Nabcor Board."

"Although Nabcor is a GOCC (government-owned and –controlled corporation) attached to the DA, it is registered with the SEC (Securities and Exchange Commission) in accordance with the Corporation Code of the Philippines," she said.

"As such, its corporate powers are exercised and all its businesses are conducted by its officers. The Secretary is neither an officer nor a Director of Nabcor."

Ragasa claimed to represent Sunvar, which was supposedly interested in supplying equipment for this project. However, Sunvar was not among Integrated Refrigeration System and Services, Inc. (IRSSI) and three other companies that were represented during the public bidding held by Nabcor's Bidding and Awards Committee (BAC) last Sept. 2.

Pioquinto also made it clear that the contract was awarded to IRSSI because it was the only company, among the four that had attended the public bidding for the supply of the machines, which had fully abided with and passed all the legal and scientific processes and requirements laid out by Nabcor’s BAC, which is headed by Romulo Relevo.

It was only IRSSI that submitted a formal bid, while representatives of three more companies — Kolonwell, JOAVI and Instrumech Philippines Inc. — attended the public bidding but surprisingly backed off from submitting their sealed bids, she said.

In the interest of full transparency, Pioquinto said the BAC even bent backwards by allowing representatives of these three companies to participate during the bidding process even if they opted not to submit their bids at the start of the process.

"If they claim that they can supply the same freezing equipment using the same BIF (brine immersion freezing)technology at a much cheaper price, why didn’t anyone of them submit a formal bid during that public bidding, which they had attended anyway?" she said.

Pioquinto said Ragasa and, now, Pamalakaya were "wrong in comparing the state-of-the-art multi-function machines provided by the winning bidder — Integrated Refrigeration System and Services, Inc. — with the single-purpose, conventional ice-making equipment offered by the other companies, which, in the first place, surprisingly declined to participate in the bidding process."

"It’s like comparing apples and oranges,” Pioquinto said in citing the superiority of IRSSI’s multifunctional equipment over the mere ice-making machines that the project critics are comparing it with. They may have been misinformed about the machines to be provided by IRSSI, which utilizes the revolutionary BIF technology to instantly freeze and preserve the quality and freshness of agricultural produce for as long as six months to a year," she said.

Unlike conventional ice-making machines, Pioquinto said the technology provided by IRSSI could store agricultural produce like fish, meat, non-leafy vegetables and fruits in Styrofoam boxes for two to three days without ice, with the quality and freshness of these commodities remaining the same as during the day these were caught or harvested and then frozen through the LQF method.

If these commodities are placed inside standard refrigerators or freezers after being frozen in BIF freezers, these can last from six months up to one year and still preserve the quality of these goods, she said.

Pioquinto said the DA’s intensified implementation of its postharvest program was in step with the Arroyo administration’s goal to further increase farm yields and incomes of farmers and fisherfolk by slashing postharvest losses that eat into their profits. (PNA)

RMA/LGI

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