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Customs Commissioner Alberto Lina said he cancelled bidding for the P650-million Integrated Enhanced Customs Processing System in favor of a potentially more cost-effective alternative, the Automated System for Customs Data.

The Manila Regional Trial Court (RTC) has stopped Customs commissioner Alberto Lina from cancelling the bidding for the P650-million IT project of the Bureau of Customs (BOC).

At the same time, the court in an 18-page order dated August 24 and signed by Manila RTC Branch 47 presiding Judge Paulino Gallegos, ordered respondents BOC and the Department of Budget and Management-Procurement Service (DBM-PS) to “continue with the remaining procurement process of signing the contract” and to issue petitioner — the joint venture of Omniprime Marketing, Inc and Intrasoft International Inc — the notice to proceed.

The court granted the petitioner’s request for a writ of preliminary injunction and mandatory injunction on the cancellation of the bidding for the Integrated Enhanced Customs Processing System (IECPS) and Philippine National Single Window Phase II (PNSW 2) project.

Among the project’s initial five bidders, only the Omniprime and Intrasoft joint venture emerged as the shortlisted eligible consultant.

The court enjoined BOC and DBM-PS from implementing the May 6, 2015 letter signed by Lina, which cancelled the bidding, as well as the Cancellation Notice on the project issued on May 7, 2015 by DBM-PS executive director Atty. Jose Tomas Syquia.

The order prohibited the two agencies from “initiating any other procurement, sourcing of funds and conducting any other procurement whether thru public bidding or negotiation to replace or upgrade the present customs system…”

Contrary to DBM-PS and BOC’s claim, the court ruled it had jurisdiction to rule on the case because the petition is for certiorari and mandamus which, under the Rules of Court, is under the jurisdiction of RTCs.

As for the respondents’ claim that a temporary restraining order cannot be issued on the bidding or awarding of contracts of the national government, the court said the law only covers physical infrastructure projects, of which the BOC IT project is not.

The court said it found “sufficiently meritorious” to maintain the status quo before the bidding was cancelled, and to give temporary relief to petitioner “whose rights as bidder now appear, from the evidence so far presented by both the parties, to have been unduly and unfairly violated by the sudden cancellation of the subject procurement process for the PNSW2 project which was then almost to end up in a week by the remaining acts of declaring the petitioner’s bid as the Highest Rated and Responsive Bid, awarding of contract and signing thereof…”

Moreover, the court cited the testimonies of witnesses of both petitioner and respondents who emphasized the “importance, necessity, urgency, and efficiency” of the NSW Phase 2 project, which was part of the project being bidded out.

While there had been no awarding of contract yet, the court said it “should have signaled the start of the petitioner’s juridical right under the consultancy services contract… and based on the jurisprudence cited in the pleadings, bidders too have right to question the bidding process or cancellation thereof if the same are done resulting to injustice, unfairness, arbitrariness, fraudulent acts or grave abuse of discretion in the absence if the grounds provided for.”

The court added that the “petitioner’s right to be awarded with the project is already clear and present, were it not for the cancellation and with absence of the grounds provided for by law.”

Omniprime and Intrasoft were ordered to post a bond of P500,000.

As of press time, BOC has yet to issue a statement on the court decision. Sources from BOC said the order is still being reviewed.

Last July, Annabelle Margaroli, president of Omniprime Marketing, filed before the Office of the Ombudsman charges of plunder and graft against Lina, former customs commissioner Guillermo Parayno, and former deputy commissioner Primo Aguas for rescinding the bidding.

READ: Lina, two other ex-BOC officials charged with plunder

Margaroli in her complaint cited “criminal conflict of interest” against the three for cancelling the IECPS and NSW 2 project.

The complainant said former Customs Commissioner John Phillip Sevilla had already awarded the contract to the joint venture of Omniprime and Intrasoft International, but Lina on May 6, two weeks of being sworn into office, cancelled the contract.

The cancellation leaves BOC with the old system which allegedly gives undue favor to value-added service provider E-Konek Pilipinas, the complainant said. Lina and his family have a 96.48% stake in the company, and Parayno is E-Konek’s current president.

Lina had said he would divest from all his business interests.

Lina cancelled the bidding because the BOC was looking at a more cost-effective system, the Automated System for Customs Data (Asycuda). Asycuda is a computerized customs management system developed by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development that covers most foreign trade procedures such as manifests and customs declarations, accounting procedures, transit, and suspense procedures. It is already in use in other countries.

READ: BOC cancels bidding for P650M computerization project

Image courtesy of digidreamgrafix at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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