POSTSCRIPT / November 25, 2012 / Sunday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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MRT fire a warning of system-wide decay

A PUZZLEMENT: Still on the mistreating of our elders, figure out this predicament of reader Rod Fermin who reports that Baliwag Lechon Manok gives a discount to one senior citizen on one-fourth of the chicken, because a senior daw can only eat one-fourth of a chicken!

Rod narrates in an email: “My wife and I are both 69 years old. We wanted to buy Baliwag Lechon Manok one evening. I presented our senior cards, my wife’s and mine.

“I was told that they sell only whole chickens, not one-half, not one-fourth.

“‘That’s okay,’ I said. ‘Please give me one whole chicken, and give me discount for two senior citizens.’

“I was told that they can only give me one senior citizen discount because they sell only one whole chicken per order.

“I told them that my wife and I are eating the chicken, so please give me one whole chicken, and give me two senior citizen’s discounts.

“I was told that since they sell only one whole chicken per order, and since ‘one senior can eat only one-fourth of a chicken,’ they cannot give me discount for two senior citizens.”

Stumped, we advised Rod to stop figuring out that Baliwag puzzle before he develops a headache, and to just buy chicken – lechon, roasted, broiled, barbecued, fried, or whatever — from another outlet with more sense and sympathy for seniors.

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ALARMING FIRE: Fire broke out in the underside of one of the coaches of a Metro Rail Transit train last Saturday near the Kamuning station in Quezon City, prompting passengers to scramble for the exits. Two women were injured in the jostle.

An MRT spokesperson blamed the fire on a “technical failure.” Commuters, represented by the National Center for Commuter Safety and Protection, pointed to maintenance lapses as causing the train system-wide decay.

The nightmare of over 600,000 Metro Manila commuters who use the MRT-3 daily is worsening by the day.

It has been 12 years since the MRT-3 started operation. Unlike the Light Rail Transit on the Rizal Avenue line in Manila, it has not had a single rehabilitation program to fix its old system.

* * *

FARE HIKE: The NCCSP also used the fire to criticize the government’s plan to raise fares. Its president, Elvira Medina, said MRT-3 commuters would be willing to pay more only if offered safe, reliable and efficient travel.

She said the electrical short circuit that caused the recent fire is proof that riding the ageing mass transit system has become “worrisome.”

The fire appears to be a warning of an impending systemic failure in MRT-3 assets. The signaling system is also in bad shape. A malfunctioning train signaling system could result in train collisions.

* * *

DAILY BEATING: Breakdowns in the ageing train system are occurring with alarming frequency, and in worsening detail. They land in the evening TV news and in digital shout outs that go viral in the Internet.

The MRT-3 system’s ridership on EDSA has risen through the years to a level exceeding the design capacity of 350,000 passengers daily.

The overloading has been causing heavy damage to the rolling stock. There is the inevitable beating that the MRT trains and rails get every day.

Passengers who have to sweat it out lining up at the packed stations, and fight their way in and out of the cars, are likewise subjected to a daily physical grind.

* * *

BAND-AID: Last month, the Department of Transportation and Communication finally appointed an interim maintenance contractor — Comm Builders & Technical Philippines Corp. — for the MRT-3.

This band-aid relief was plastered on the system after a scramble through a “negotiated procurement” to find a contractor as the expiration of the contract held by Japanese firm Sumitomo Corp. loomed last Oct. 19.

The appointment of Comm Builders & Technical Philippines is still entangled in legalities, but the DoTC Bids and Awards Committee pronounced the need as “urgent.” That seems to justify the whole matter in the government’s eyes.

* * *

AVOID THE RUSH: Moving forward, the DoTC should now ensure that the emergency contract remains just that — an interim contract. It should take the proper steps to find and sign up a long-term maintenance contractor before six months from Oct. 19 are over.

The government should avoid being stuck with (or using the trick of) a prolonged interim maintenance contract, one that is merely extended as another emergency six-month contract.

The government should now start the bidding process so it can draw credible, qualified bidders by January 2013 and avoid the deadline rush that marred the Sumitomo contract expiration a month ago.

* * *

‘ACTION MAN’: Proposals to inject a systemic solution that will bring about relief and comfort to riders have been waiting for action at the DoTC for over a year now.

One proposal was submitted by a private sector proponent with substantial interests in the private corporation that owns the MRT-3 assets. The offer has been awaiting action since the time of Secretaries Ping de Jesus, Mar Roxas, and now Jun Abaya.

The riding public is hoping that the coming of Emilio “Jun” Aguinaldo Abaya as DoTC secretary heralds thearrival of a long-awaited “action man” who will arrest the deterioration of the country’s transportation infrastructure.

Holder of an engineering degree from the Annapolis Naval Academy in the US, Abaya is respected as a technical, hands-on manager. He is known to seriously look at the details of a project — the all-important “cause and effect” — and not the “politics” of a project for the advantage of a few, choice personalities in the government.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of November 25, 2012)

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