By Arjay L. Balinbin, Reporter

THE Department of Transportation (DoTr) said on Thursday the two vessels of 2GO Group, Inc., currently used as quarantine facilities for returning overseas Filipino workers (OFWs), were first priced at P120 million, but the amount was lowered to P35 million after Transportation Secretary Arthur P. Tugade insisted that the ships should be offered free of charge.

However, 2GO Group Chairman Dennis A. Uy said in a statement issued late Wednesday: “To set the record straight, the actual cost to operate the two vessels as quarantine facilities is at P260 million. But this was intended to be a donation. The P35 million was an offer made by the DoTr, for which we had no plans of accepting.”

Transportation Assistant Secretary Goddes Hope O. Libiran told reporters via Viber the following day that Mr. Uy was not involved in the negotiations.

“To be clear, Mr. Uy was never a part of any of the discussion. The first rate quoted during the initial negotiation among DoTr maritime officials and 2GO was at P120 million for two vessels for two months. Secretary Tugade did not agree with the initial offer and insisted that it must be for free,” she said.

“Sec. Tugade then instructed Coast Guard Commandant Joel Garcia and DoTr Usec. Artemio Tuazon, Jr. to talk with 2GO and negotiate further to lower the amount,” Ms. Libiran added.

She said that the amount was eventually lowered to P35 million to cover the necessary costs to operate the vessels, including their fuel, electricity, water, maintenance, supplies, and actual salaries of crew and hotel staff.

“Sec. Tugade said that if it is the best offer, then go ahead, but without prejudice to him asking the principal for concession,” Ms. Libiran also said.

It was during the Laging Handa briefing on Wednesday when Mr. Tugade revealed that the government would be paying the shipping and logistics company P35 million for the use of its vessels to quarantine OFWs.

Mr. Uy, in his statement, apologized to those who were “offended” by the news.

“I agree with the comments of some of the netizens that have been brought to my attention. In fact, I do believe that now, more than ever, in the time of COVID-19 (coronavirus disease 2019), we as Filipinos, whether in private or in government, have to work together, jointly make the necessary sacrifice, stand together to safeguard the lives and safety of our countrymen,” he said.

He stressed that 2GO was providing the two vessels free of charge, as he had already given “explicit instructions to waive the P35 million expected payment from the government.”

The DoTr then thanked Mr. Uy and 2GO “for their generosity and upholding their social responsibility.”

“This should also clarify that at no time did Secretary Tugade meet, talk, and discuss this matter directly with 2GO Chairman Dennis Uy, as negotiations were made through the proper channels. It is therefore unfortunate and deplorable that Mr. Uy was unfairly dragged by the media and was at the receiving end of negative commentaries, when he was never part of the discussion, and was not even mentioned by Secretary Tugade in his interview,” the department said.