The controversial deal to purchase firetrucks from Austria, which led to the sacking of former Interior Secretary Ismael Sueno, will go ahead in the absence of a Supreme Court order blocking it, a ranking Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) official said Tuesday.
Epimaco Densing III, DILG Assistant Secretary for Plans and Programs, said the project to buy 76 Rosenbauer firetrucks would continue, with 14 units expected to arrive at the Batangas City port within the day.
“It will proceed. There is no TRO (temporary restraining order). There was a question about the first delivery but the Supreme Court did not issue a TRO,” Densing said. “And this is a perfected contract. We’re just implementing a perfected contract.”
The DILG had acquired an initial batch of Rosenbauer firetrucks under former Interior Secretary Mar Roxas in 2013 but this was questioned before the Supreme Court due to allegations of overpricing.
Sueno went to Austria in January for the acquisition of another batch of 76 firetrucks.
Critics claimed that Sueno ignored a DILG legal opinion advising prudence in paying for the first batch of firetrucks under Roxas since there was a pending case in the Supreme Court.
President Duterte questioned Sueno about the DILG legal opinion but the former DILG chief claimed he had not seen it. Mr. Duterte then fired Sueno.
Densing said however that the two contracts to acquire the firetrucks were cleared by the Department of Finance, the Department of Justice, the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas, and the National Economic Development Authority.
“The DILG legal opinion advised prudence in paying for the project but the first scheduled payment is still (in 2021) under the terms of the loan,” he said.“Let us also remember that this is a perfected contract and a government-to-government transaction. Austria is one of the countries in the world which has the least corrupt practices in the world,” he said.
“They will not have a contract with our government and have corrupt activities in between,” he added.
Densing also said that the firetrucks would actually cost P3.8 million based on the favorable loan terms that the government got.
“So, compared to the P7 million we would pay if we buy a firetruck on the spot, each Rosenbauer firetruck will cost only P3.8 million. So, it’s more affordable and it’s of high quality,” he added.
Densing said he wasn’t aware if the President’s concerns were addressed.
“This is an issue (between) the President and former Secretary Sueno and again, whoever the president wants removed from his Cabinet, that’s his choice,” Densing said.
“Nobody can question it. He’s not even required to investigate,” he added.
But lawyer Leo Romero, who had petitioned the Supreme Court to stop the deal, insisted that President Duterte fired Sueno precisely for the anomalies surrounding the purchases.
In a five-page letter dated April 17, Romero reminded acting Interior Secretary Catalino Cuy that it was “public knowledge” that Sueno was fired “upon the ‘first whiff’ of graft and corruption in the questioned trip to Austria for meetings and negotiations with the officials of Rosenbauer.”
He said that Bureau of Fire Protection chief Bobby Baruelo issued an order in March directing the BFP Inspection and Acceptance Committee to proceed with the acquisition despite the controversy.
Baruelo’s order was “bereft of any legal and factual basis” and should not be followed, Romero stressed.
He said the Legal and Legislative Liaison Service of the DILG in fact had released a legal opinion on Oct. 26, 2016, advising Sueno to suspend the procurement project.
Romero said the Office of the Solicitor General had also informed the Supreme Court that it was withdrawing its services as counsel of the BFP and the DILG after it found their “position (on the case) irreconcilable.”
He said Baruelo’s directive was part of “an ongoing brazen attempt” by some unscrupulous BFP officials to “countermand” the DILG’s legal opinion and the President’s order.