NAGA CITY, Camarines Sur: The Commission on Audit (COA) has ordered the disallowance of P49 million purchase of railroad ties for the rehabilitation of the Bicol Express tracks after documents showed the materials procured were substandard.
The Citizen Crime Watch (CCW) Bicol chapter has filed early this month a complaint before the Office of the Ombudsman against former Philippine National Railways (PNR) general manager Junio M. Ragragio over the 2012 purchase of wooden railroad ties which turned out a mere “larch” specie of softwood quality imported from China.
Since PNR began its operation, railroad ties used in North and South bound railways were made of first-class hardwood yakal and molave species which can live for more than 50 years in soil and water.
A PNR division manager tapped to examine the quality of the railroad ties issued a certification on May 16, 2012 stating that the China-made wood was a softwood.
Despite the certification, the PNR management still pushed through with the installation of the railroad ties.
The COA disallowance order said the first-class hardwood known as yakal was stated in the bidding and procurement contract for railroad ties and not the softwood “larch” specie as delivered and duly received by the PNR.
The notice of disallowance were addressed to PNR general manager Junio M. Ragragio, controller division chief Jane Balong-Angey, budget and cash division manager Rosendo Calleja, safety and maintenance division chief Edwin Balong-Angey, transportation department manager Estelito Nierva, rolling stock maintenance department manager Ruben A. Besmonte, legal division manager Neofito Perilla, administration and finance department head Abdul Aziz Pangandaman, engineering division manager Divina Gracia Dantes, engineering department principal engineer A Cesar L. Bocanog and engineering dept. principal A Marlo D. Arias.
CCW Bicol chapter expressed concern over the safety of the trains and passengers after inspection and testing showed that the railroad ties can be easily destroyed by a bolo.
Based on COA documents, the PNR contract was for the procurement of 1,400 pieces wood bridge ties, 514 pieces wood joint ties and 16 sets of wood ties of various lengths amounting to P9,918,492.23 which was paid on March 7, 2013 and May 30, 2013.
The second purchase involved 9,090 and 428 pieces of wood bridge ties, 25 sets wood switch ties and 16 sets of wood ties of various lengths valued at P39,884,502.37 and paid on April 26, 2013 and June 7, 2013.
The notice of award for Nikka Trading as the winning bidder was signed by Ragragio on January 12, 2012 while the notice to proceed was also signed by Ragragio for Nikka Trading on January 31, 2012. Nikka Trading is located at Cityland Herrera Tower at Salcedo Village, Bel-Air in Makati. Documents said a certain Andronica owns Nikka Trading.
The COA report said the payments were disallowed because the procurement procedures, processing of payments for the procured items including use of the goods were found to be irregular, with the cost excessive, extravagant and unconscionable expenditures and the goods were not “yakal” specie as stated in the procurement.
PNR General Manager Joseph Dilay cannot be contacted for comment in reaction to the CCW complaint before the Ombudsman, but his public affairs head Paul Dequiros defended the importation of the wood products from China saying it was resorted to after the contractor presented certification from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources about the government log ban.
Dequiroz said the larch specie were being used as railroad ties in China, Canada and other countries but he failed to mention about the COA disallowance order.
PNR division manager Gilbert J. Patulot sent a memorandum to Ragragio on May 12, 2012 saying he had personally examined the procured railroad ties delivered from Manshouli, China to be used as bridge and switch ties.
Based on his assessment, Patulot said the “larch” specie was a softwood and had never been used as railroad ties for PNR.
The memorandum, however, said that if PNR insists on using the larch specie, certain applications of at least seven modifications among others in the treatment, installation of plates and pads, use of bolt screw instead of track spikes should be done. He added that railroad ties must be immediately installed as these have lifespan of eight to 10 years.
Romeo Esplana, CCW chief investigator for government corruption, said the larch wood from China may only last for a maximum of five years citing the country’s atmosphere as compared to the cool climate in other countries where larch type thrives.