Even before Mahindra could turn over the first batch of Enforcer patrol units for Philippine National Police's use, critics rushed to conclusions and hurled accusations of corruption against the Indian carmaker. That the allocated budget for said patrol vehicles was P1.3 billion only fueled suspicions.
No official statement from CAC Mahindra, the distributor of the Indian automotive brand in the country, was ever released. Broadcast journalist and former congressman Ted Failon even publicly questioned the result of the PNP fleet bidding, which, by the way, was conducted by the Department of Budget and Management (DBM), and not the PNP. The car distributor kept mum on the subject until the Enforcer patrol unit was exhibited and made available for test drive at the general assembly of the League of Municipalities of the Philippines on Thursday.
CAC Mahindra president Felix Mabilog Jr. graced the event, bared the company's plans to a select group of motoring journalists, and finally spoke up to defend his company. With more than five recording devices digitally filing away his every word, the executive denied that his company was a favored government supplier.
"Everybody doesn't like us," Mabilog said at one point. "Some of our competitors really spent money to put down Mahindra. Check the bidding records. The vehicle requirements for bidding were adjusted three to four times not for our benefit, but to put us at a disadvantage."
Known for being straightforward, Mabilog narrated how his company dealt with the changing requirements.
"We did our best to win this bidding," he said. "We thought it was a good opportunity to introduce the brand since it is not yet well-known, although it has been around for some time."
Now, what exactly were the new requirements? Which prerequisites were altered or added, and why?
According to Mabilog, who has helmed various carmakers in the country, a firm should be at least 60% Filipino-owned in order to be allowed to place a bid. Most bidders were dealers, and CAC Mahindra was the only car distributor in the game.
Unlike the dealers who would have had to outsource the conversion of the vehicle body, CAC Mahindra--being a distributor and not a dealer--was the only bidder with an assembly plant facility to have its patrol units' bodies done locally in its factory.
"That was our advantage over our competitors," Mabilog said. "The Enforcer's bodies were factory-made here."
With the prospect of gaining a foothold in the market by winning the fleet bid, the company prepared for the first bidding. It was postponed, however, due to supertyphoon Yolanda.
"Government officials realized that PNP vehicles couldn't traverse floods and couldn't climb up steep slopes," the septuagenarian boss said.
Logically, the engine capacity and the torque and horsepower requirements were increased. CAC Mahindra's figures made the cut, but the other bidders' specs were not within "acceptable standards." Later, the engine-specification prerequisites were once again changed.
"The required specs were then decreased," Mabilog revealed. "They lowered the required engine capacity, horsepower and torque so as not to favor Mahindra, but to accommodate the two big players that initially didn't make it."
When asked to name the two big players, the executive refused to identify them.
According to Mabilog, new conditions were also introduced to disqualify Mahindra from the bid. One such requirement is that the vehicle brand should have at least a 10-year presence in the country. The CAC Mahindra boss pointed out that Francisco Motors, which used to distribute Hyundai and Mazda automobiles in the country, had also imported vehicles of the Indian brand. Moreover, he said that independent importers had been bringing in Mahindra vehicles for their own use.
When Mahindra cleared this new prerequisite, another stipulation was included: The company should have a "continuous presence" in the country, which meant bidders should have had at least one activity in the past year. "Good thing they didn't know that I had been importing Mahindras since last year," Mabilog said.
So there. We got the chance to hear the side of the winning bidder. CAC Mahindra already has 30 units available for delivery. Once given the go-signal by DBM, the company is set to deliver 1,470 Enforcer patrol units from May to September this year.
Photos by Tracy Carpena