Back in 2014, when news about Mahindra’s arrival in the Philippines first broke, there were already talks that the local distributor (CAC Mahindra of Pepito Alvarez’s group) was to supply patrol vehicles to the Philippine National Police. The rumor turned out to be true, raising a lot of eyebrows over the fact that the country’s police force had chosen an untested Indian brand over longtime suppliers like Toyota.
In the beginning, it was reported that Mahindra had won the bid for the PNP’s initial 560-unit requirement, having agreed to a per-unit price of P895,000. Later, it was revealed that Mahindra was to deliver a total of 1,470 units to PNP, worth P1.3 billion. Today, as you read this, it has been made known that CAC Mahindra ended up supplying the PNP with P1.89 billion worth of vehicles. According to company president Felix Mabilog Jr., his firm has turned over a total of 1,656 units of the Enforcer and 398 units of the Scorpio for use by our valiant cops.
Here’s the problem: The Commission on Audit has apparently flagged the series of transactions for possible anomalies. As stated by Rappler in a July 4 article:
The COA said the PNP in the first tranche skipped an “operations needs assessment,” a step the auditing body said is an “essential task in procurement planning.”
An “operations needs assessment” procedure is essentially auditing the needs of the PNP. This step would ensure that multimillion-peso spendings would respond to a need. In this case, COA said, the PNP should have at least asked police stations the following basic questions:
1. What and where will the vehicles be used for, and how many are needed?
2. What configurations of vehicles are needed?
3. Are spare parts and service centers easily accessible?
The COA pointed out that the PNP did not ask local police stations what they needed before writing a recommendation to the DBM (Department of Budget and Management). Instead, COA said, the PNP transmitted minimum requirements prescribed by the National Police Commission (NAPOLCOM).
The standards set by the NAPOLCOM, COA said, were too low and “appeared to have no reasonable basis as such would neither upgrade nor improve the agency’s current inventory of patrol vehicles.”
Despite this flawed advisory from the PNP, the DBM went forward with the first tranche of the multibillion-peso procurement with the questioned standards.
Even more troubling was the COA’s assessment that the vehicles were substandard, revealing that these were unable to run faster than 100km/h, had “rusty engines” and offered inadequate seating capacity, among other things. “The COA also spoke with 1,300 PNP personnel on the patrol vehicles and found out that 57.2% were unsatisfied with the vehicles,” the Rappler article reported. “Only 15.96% were satisfied, while the rest were undecided.”
To address the long-running controversy, CAC Mahindra has sent a statement to select motoring media outlets, and we’d like to share the more salient points from it. Basically, the statement can be summarized as follows: (1) the Mahindra vehicles passed tests conducted by the PNP and the DBM; and (2) the distributor has taken steps to ensure the provision of spare parts and expert service for the patrol vehicles.
On the first point:
The Mahindra Enforcer has passed the rigid tests conducted by the Philippine National Police together with evaluators from the Department of Budget and Management as part of the acceptance process prescribed in the bidding conditions.
The tests conducted were rigorous. The vehicles were made to run for five straight days without turning the engines off. The roads [these vehicles] passed through were not all concrete or paved. They went through mountainous areas in Benguet and the Mountain Province, and crossed rivers and streams in the Ilocos Region.
On the second point:
CAC Mahindra keeps regular maintenance records of the vehicles delivered to the country’s police force as these are brought to the authorized service centers for checkups and repairs. The company has also established four regional spare parts depots in various locations in Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao to ensure immediate availability of needed parts and support warranty demands. If parts are not available at its regional stations, they are sent via airfreight within 24 hours from its central depot in Manila or by sea within one week.
The company maintains more than P30 million worth of readily available spare parts for both the Enforcer and Scorpio models, which is roughly equivalent to a 15-month carrying inventory.
CAC has also created a special and dedicated service group, composed of five service engineers, to cover all areas where the patrol vehicles were deployed. These engineers have made regular visits or calls to their respective areas to monitor the performance of the units. Mahindra has likewise deployed two mobile service vehicles to address urgent service requirements.
In coordination with the PNP, Mahindra’s service engineers have conducted a total of 113 trainings all over the country for proper operation, maintenance and basic troubleshooting. The company also entered into a partnership with Kia service centers throughout the country to ensure that all delivered units could be regularly checked and repaired.
On top of these, international service managers from India conduct periodical visits for field training, units monitoring and performance evaluation.
Here perhaps is the telling part: While the COA report quoted “satisfaction” levels among the police officers, CAC Mahindra presents actual figures with regard to the patrol vehicles. According to the distributor, out of the 1,656 Enforcer units it has supplied to the PNP, only 25 (1.5%) are non-operational. The company adds that the breakdowns may be attributed to the following factors:
- Failure to bring the units to an authorized service center for routine preventive maintenance (13);
- Road accidents (8); and
- Damage incurred from being “ambushed by criminal elements” (4).
In other words, the vehicles break down not because they’re of poor quality. They break down because of negligence—at least according to CAC Mahindra. A conclusion that is quite consistent with the PNP’s track record when it comes to looking after its vehicles. The way some police officers treat their service cars, even an M4 Sherman tank wouldn’t stand a chance.
Full disclosure: In 2016, CAC Mahindra lent me an Enforcer that was configured for civilian use. The test unit even had a sign that read: “PNP TEST & EVALUATION.” My findings at the time? Here are excerpts from my review published in The Manila Times:
In a nutshell, the Enforcer feels very spartan, and its construction makes no pretensions to the contrary. It looks like a poor man’s Land Rover Defender, and that’s part of its basic appeal. From its steel wheels to its plastic-and-fabric interior, the Enforcer is forthright in its mission statement: to bring its occupants to their destination with a modicum of comfort and convenience.
The Enforcer for our market is powered by a 2.5-liter four-cylinder turbodiesel mated to a five-speed manual transmission with a tall stick. Rated at 100hp and 240Nm, it feels and sounds like an old Isuzu motor. Given the vehicle’s reason for being, this seems adequate enough for the task at hand.
The cockpit is covered in cheap plastic, with its level of craftsmanship making it appear like Mahindra hasn’t even heard of “fit and finish.” Then again, like I said, the Enforcer has the appeal of such utilitarian vehicles as the Defender or even the Suzuki Samurai. It’s not for wimps. It’s for crime-busters who have no need for Bluetooth connectivity and dual-zone climate control.
The cabin’s only concession to “luxury” is a Kenwood audio head unit that plays MP3 files and accepts a jack plug. The air-conditioning vents and switchgear look like they were sourced from two generations ago. Even the pull-out switch for the hazard lights feels like a misplaced afterthought behind the steering wheel. Which only adds to the manliness of the vehicle. The Enforcer is not for urbanized motorists, but it certainly has an austere market it can competently serve.
The unit I tested was 4×4. Combine this with a ground clearance of 235mm and you have a vehicle you can confidently navigate around Metro Manila even during the floody season.
I spent a couple of weeks with the Enforcer, but there was no way for me to test the vehicle’s long-term durability. Is the Enforcer ideal for private, personal use? Probably not. Is it good enough for police duties? Yes, it is. Just keeping my fingers crossed that it will at least live long enough to pay for itself.
Whom to believe: the “unsatisfied” police officers or the “conscientious” distributor? The jury is still probably out on this one. You be the judge.
UPDATE: CAC Mahindra president Felix Mabilog Jr. has sent us a revised tally of the Mahindra patrol vehicles that went out of commission at some point. “The total number of units that have been rendered inoperable as per our records is actually 40, all of which are Enforcers. We have repaired 14 out of these 40 units, without cost to the PNP even if said units are no longer covered by warranty. They were mostly damaged because of accidents, floods, encounters with criminal elements or just failure to be brought to our authorized workshops for preventive maintenance.”