Tuesday, April 26, 2011

COMELEC taste for solid narra beds hit hard

NARRA tree

MANILA, Philippines — This is one failed bidding the Commission on Elections will not likely rue.

A bidding failure may have helped the COMELEC escape further controversy after the poll body Tuesday came under fire for its choice of Pterocarpus indicus as furniture for its five cottages in Baguio City.

For people allergic to scientific terms, Pterocarpus indicus simply refers to the national tree narra.

Environment lawyer Jose Gerardo Medina, in a letter to COMELEC law department director Ferdinand Rafanan, pointed out that narra is an endangered species.  Rafanan also chairs the Comelec’s bids and awards committee (BAC).

Medina particularly protested the project’s specifications — that the 11 living room sets, 36 dining chairs, seven “king-sized beds” and 16 “queen-sized beds” be made of solid narra.

The wooden furniture, worth about P2.56 million, is part of the P9-million project for the supply of furnishings for the COMELEC’s five cottages that the poll body approved last December.

The bids committee certified the project as urgent as the COMELEC plans to hold summer sessions in Baguio.

“For the past three decades, the narra tree has been classified as an endangered species, the cutting and utilization of which is highly regulated and to a certain extent prohibited,” Medina said.

“As such, specifying furniture to be made from solid narra would be encouraging the use of an endangered premium hardwood species and would run contrary to the policy of the national government in protecting the narra species,” he said.

Critically endangered

Medina threw in another bit of advice: “Perhaps it would be best if the Comelec shy away from the use of endangered species and do its part in helping preserve the narra tree.”
The late Environment Secretary Angelo Reyes in 2007 issued an administrative order establishing a “national list of threatened Philippine plants.”  Narra, along with yakal and kamagong, falls under the “critically endangered species” category.

Possible changes

Rafanan, in a phone interview, said no individual or company showed up to submit their bids by Tuesday’s 10 a.m. bidding deadline.

He said the bids committee was aware of the restrictions on the use of narra and that he called a high DENR official for advice.

“We were told that finished products of narra are not banned.  The assumption is that they were crafted in compliance with our environmental laws,” Rafanan said, adding there were some furniture companies that mass cultivate narra trees for commercial purposes.

“We may ask the en banc to change the specifications,” he said.

Recycled wood

Medina suggested that the COMELEC use pre-fabricated or recycled wood available in the market.

“High-end furniture nowadays are made not of solid wood but rather of engineered wood or laminated boards which are equally as beautiful and functional,” he said.

Rafanan said the COMELEC may simply buy furniture priced at P500,000 and below, or settle for a negotiated contract if a second bidding fails.

The Switzerland-based International Union for Conservation of Nature, in its online “Red List of Threatened Species,” placed the status of narra under the “vulnerable” category.  - By Jerome Aning, Philippine Daily Inquirer, 04/27/2011

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