Jojo A. Robles

Independence Day

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This year’s celebration of Independence Day reminds me of a Facebook “thread” started recently by a passing acquaintance who put forth a daring proposition—or so he thought. This fellow opined that the current times we live in are so much better than the years past because we have the freedom to criticize government and not fear being arrested or even disappearing forever.



As someone who has made a living by criticizing government—this one, in particular— I guess I should be thankful that I am not picked up by the police or some other government agency every time I write a column. But if the freedom to criticize our rulers was all we needed to succeed as a country, then we must have been living in the best of all possible worlds since 1986.


The reality, of course, is not as freedom-dependent as one might think. As a gloating Lee Kwan Yew once famously observed, apropos of the difference between Singapore and the Philippines, some actually believe that the opposite is true, that “too much freedom” has relegated this country as a whole to the category of the irredeemable laggards of the world in many respects—without even the usual excuses of severe shortages in natural and human resources and a perpetual state of civil strife.


It doesn’t help this discredited argument that, in all the areas where this country needs to improve, no independent and objective institution has noted that the freedom to criticize the government is important. They may recommend more competitiveness and better infrastructure, greater investments and less (and less corrupt) government; but they never talk about more freedom to say what you think, especially about inept, inefficient and thoroughly unimaginative administrations like this one.


Ultimately, the fundamental flaw of the reasoning that freedom shall make this or any country great or even marginally better is that, like the trickle-down theory in economics, no one has shown evidence of that long-held assumption. And like the benefits of an economic upswing, the fruits of freedom seem to never reach the majority of the people—no matter how good we are asked to feel about either a surging economy or the freedoms we are said to enjoy.


The people need food, jobs, education, shelter and other such mundane things before they can even begin to appreciate freedom, and have been proven to willingly forego the last if they can have all of the first. And in a country where all the basic needs are always in short supply but freedom has been abundant for almost a generation, I would assume that our leaders have simply gotten things backward all this time.


Freedom and independence are great to have, but they’re not all we need or even the most pressing of our needs, not by a long shot. Happy Independence Day.


* * *


The bidding for an important Department of Transportation and Communications deal, the five-year, Motor Vehicle License Plates Supply Project, has turned controversial after one of the bidders for the P3.8-billion undertaking accused government bid overseers of unduly favoring  suppliers with overpriced proposals. According to the consortium of local group RNA Holdings and its Polish partner Utal Sp. Z o.o, one of the six original bidders disqualified by the department, the two approved bidders inflated their costs for producing new license plates by as much as P2 billion.


And that’s not the only problem with the bidding, apparently. The opening and evaluation of the bids for the license plate project last month, according to the RNA-Utal group, the department’s bids and awards committee also allegedly used a fictitious international standard to evaluate the bidders’ offers, which its rivals also certified to have reached or surpassed, thus invalidating their bids according to state procurement rules.


In a letter to Transportation Undersecretary Jose Perpetuo Lotilla, RNA said they had earlier challenged the existence of an “ASTM D 4956 8.5” standard supposedly used by international testing bodies for evaluating the quality of reflective surfaces for traffic control purposes. “There is no such standard and no test can prove conformity to a non-existing standard, yet all bidders swore under oath that they did the test,” said RNA’s Robert Aventajado.


The Filipino-Polish consortium had offered to provide the LTO with two million two-piece license plate sets for cars, trucks, taxis, buses and other four-wheeled vehicles at P163.85 each, while the qualified bidders from the Netherlands and Spain offered theirs at P380 and P388.05 per set, respectively. For motorcycles, RNA offered to supply 10 million license plates at P46.16 each versus the Dutch and Spanish suppliers’ offers of P120 and P128 each, respectively.


That made RNA’s bid less than half the cost of the two “compliant” bidders, for a total price difference of more than P2 billion. That’s a difference of P216.15 per pair of car, truck and bus plates and P84.04 per pair of motorcycle plates which will naturally have to be paid the vehicle owners.


RNA is definitely the lowest bidder by far and the most compliant with the rules. Let’s see how this latest apparent anomaly will be explained away by the purveyors of “daang matuwid” at DOTC.

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