17may28 – MRT owners can’t check train depot!

POSTSCRIPT / May 28, 2017 / Sunday
MRT owners can’t check train depot!
By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

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IT IS strange, if not suspicious, that to this day the private firm MRT Corp. that owns the MRT-3 system running on EDSA has not been allowed by the Department of Transportation to inspect the trains at the depot under Trinoma in Quezon City.

By contract, MRT Corp. as owner is the entity that should provide maintenance for the MRT-3 as it did when the service started on July 15, 2000, and it engaged the services of Japanese train expert Sumitomo Corp. as its maintenance contractor.

But since Sumitomo was booted out in October 2012 by then Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya, MRT Corp. officers have not been allowed to inspect their trains nor enter the MRT depot.

Under a 25-year Build-Lease-Transfer contract, although MRT Corp. is the owner, the government manages operations through a project management office of the DoTr with a general manager (who was once Al Vitangcol) that it appoints.

Since 2012 when Abaya relieved Sumitomo, the MRT has seen unprecedented speedy deterioration as unqualified maintenance provider after another attempted or pretended to maintain or fix the trains.

The government appears to be negligently putting people’s lives at risk by delaying the hiring of a qualified maintenance provider.

At the Senate hearing on public services chaired by Sen. Grace Poe last May 15, she questioned Transportation Secretary Arturo Tugade’s allowing the maintenance contract with Busan Universal Rail Inc. (BURI) to proceed in spite of knowing its lack of qualifications.

Busan, or BURI as it now calls itself possibly to avoid the scary “train to Busan” reference, is doing a strong media campaign after given a deadline by DoTr to explain why its contract should not be terminated.

But this does not change the widespread observation that it has utterly failed to deliver the services required under its contract.

Busan has failed also to comply with the scheduled turnover of overhauled Light Rail Vehicles, in violation of its contract that specifically includes the overhauling of 43 LRVs. It keeps giving the media promises that it would deliver within a certain period.

Busan has been saying this since Abaya was secretary before the term of then President Noynoy Aquino ended. Now, it is saying it will deliver in December.

This is not likely to happen – for the simple reason that the company is not really a maintenance expert. Busan, the known rail expert in the BURI consortium, is only 4 percent of the group. The rest are Filipino companies whose expertise are not in rail but in agriculture, real estate development and construction.

The solution is clearly to return maintenance to an expert like Sumitomo. Even better, the government can allow the private owner, that by contract should handle maintenance, to resume its duties. The MRT Corp. has expressed its frustration against BURI and its willingness to resume maintenance of the MRT-3.

Aside from preventing more accidents due to poor maintenance, the MRT Corp. can also be expected to protect the trains, since it owns the system.

In a letter to DoTr dated April 27, 2017, the firm pointed out that MRT Corp. as owner has the right to the technical maintenance of the system from its completion on July 15, 2000, until its 25th anniversary on July 15, 2025. It said it was ready to invest some P7.5 billion to rehabilitate and maintain the MRT-3.

Accepting this proposal would mean a return to the “single point of responsibility” concept under which should there be any problem, there would be no pointing of fingers, as what happened under Abaya. If Sumitomo, for instance, were chosen maintenance provider, it would own the responsibility of guaranteeing the safety of passengers.

As maintenance will be the responsibility of the private owners, it will be at no cost to government, leaving no room for corruption. Why does not the government favor this arrangement?

Foes of martial law can step aside

IN CONGRESS, meanwhile, the majority seems unwilling to consider revoking Proclamation 216 of President Rodrigo Duterte imposing martial law for 60 days in Mindanao to quell what he said is an ongoing rebellion. Debate it, yes; but revoke it, no.

Either (1) Majority of lawmakers believe the Commander-in-Chief is right, (2) No one in the House and the Senate has solid information to debunk the intelligence reports used as factual basis for the proclamation, or (3) Many politicians find it prudent not to object.

With that, all those who disagree, but cannot present evidence overturning the facts cited by Mr. Duterte to justify martial law, can step aside while the armed forces move to wipe out the rebels identified with the Maute terror group that started the ruckus this week.

Anti-martial law elements who decide to just quietly bear it include those – in politics, business, the media, the professions – who have been intimidated enough to bury their heads in the sand to survive, or who have simply grown tired speaking up.

Whatever their reason, those who have chosen to yield better get out of the way of the Duterte martial law forces. Who knows, he might just be right.

Those who want to hold on can wait for the remote possibility that the ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) will declare that it has nothing to do with the Maute marauders who pillaged Marawi City this week.

There is also the possibility of some military renegades leaking intelligence debunking the information submitted by President Duterte to the Congress. This could stir up a wave of demands for a truthful disclosure.

And then, there could be some citizens objecting out of conscience who would petition the Supreme Court to review the factual basis of the martial law proclamation. Just wait.

The problem with this scenario is that the Supreme Court may depend largely on intelligence that only the President conceivably possesses – and he is expected to tailor it to fit his arguments. And assuming the petitioner wins, who would enforce the decision against President Duterte?

(First published in The Philippine STAR of May 28, 2017)

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