POSTSCRIPT / October 2, 2014 / Thursday


Opinion Columnist

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Problem is DOTC, MRT Corp. don’t talk

CONFUSION: Transportation officials appeared confused yesterday at a Senate hearing where they rationalized their failure to fix the maintenance mess endangering the lives of some 550,000 daily riders of the Metro Rail Transit (MRT-3) running above EDSA.

The inquiry conducted by the subcommittee on public service chaired by Sen. Grace Poe brought to the fore problems that, based on testimonies of resource persons, fall on the lap of the Department of Transportation and Communications.

One basic problem is that contrary to the concept of Public-Private Partnership (PPP), the government and its private partners in the $675-million MRT hardly talk to each other. Or if they sometimes do, they do not talk on the same wavelength.

Sen. Chiz Escudero was spot on when he highlighted this lack of communication and coordination during his interrogation of DoTC officials led by Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya.

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NO TALK: When Poe asked Abaya when was the last time the secretary spoke to the private owners, Abaya retorted, “We are bound just to talk to the representative of MRT Corp., and MRTC is ably represented by Mr. Tomas de Leon.”

However, Escudero noted that De Leon is chairman of MRTC, the owner of the rail system, only by virtue of the bonds being held by the Development Bank of the Philippines, a government-controlled firm.

Poe reminded Abaya that the DoTC should also communicate with the private owners of the MRT and not just the government representatives.

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SECONDHAND COACHES: Another problem is that the DoTC refuses to entertain offers of the private sector, and does not consult with the private owners on their common responsibilities to the riding public

If the DOTC accepted the proposal of businessman Manuel V. Pangilinan in 2011, the MRT would have acquired 48 new coaches (or 16 three-coach trains) by today at no cost to the government. Chairman Robert Sobrepeña of the MRT Holdings, which owns MRT Corp., testified:

“In 2011, we went into a cooperation agreement with Metro Pacific under a Build-Operate-Transfer (business model) to initiate, under then Secretary Ping de Jesus and then again under his successor Secretary Mar Roxas, a proposal from Manny Pangilinan’s group wherein private investors would bring in 48 new coaches for the MRT at no cost to government.”

The DoTC rejected the offer, because it wanted to buy second-hand trains. Abaya struggled to explain, saying that the used trains were “world class” and were only considered because of the urgency for capacity expansion.

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DOTC SUED: When the DoTC went ahead to buy new trains from Dalian Locomotive & Rolling Stock Co. Ltd. CNR Group of China, the private owners were not informed. The DoTC is the operator, not the owner, of the system.

Sobrepeña said: “A derivative suit was filed by the owners because we asked MRT Corp. (whose board is controlled by government representatives) to take legal action against DoTC to stop them from procuring trains without consulting us. When they failed (to even consult us as they purchased new trains) we had no recourse but to file a derivative suit (by the holding company, MRT Holdings II).

“It was not just the award of trains that we were objecting to, but also the standing offer for new trains, and to ensure compatibility with the system because if something happens to the trains it could be very dangerous to the riding public. A seamless integration of new trains has to be coordinated by both parties. There was no communication with us.”

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WARRANTY: Another problem is that Abaya or the DoTC seems confused about many things, or may be trying to confuse the public.

When Escudero asked why the DoTC replaced Sumitomo Corp. although it seemed capable enough as maintenance provider, Abaya replied that Sumitomo was no longer giving a warranty that PH Trams and APT Global (the replacement maintenance groups) were willing to give.

For lack of a representative from Sumitomo, Escudero asked Sobrepeña if this was true. Sobrepeña, the MRT Corp. chairman in 2000 when Sumitomo was hired, explained that Sumitomo gave a guarantee, based on its contract, that 20 trains or 60 cars would be available and running during peak hours.

The senator asked an executive of APT Global what warranty it was giving that Sumitomo was unable to give. He replied: “(Our guarantee is only) to maintain the system. So depende po sa manufacturer. Kami po mag me-maintain lang.”

“So they did not guarantee it either,” the senator pointed out to Abaya.

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CHOPPED-UP: Poe said there should not be a “chopping up” of the MRT system into various bid items – which we pointed out in our Sept. 21 Postscript. Abaya said that maintenance is different from upgrades, but the senator could not be fooled.

Pointing out that overhauling is definitely an item that is under the scope of the maintenance provider, Poe asked Abaya why this item had to be separately bid out. The secretary was unable to reply.

Sobrepeña clarified that contrary to Abaya’s statement that overhauling was not under maintenance, all the items that are now being separately bid out were covered and paid for by Sumitomo under its contract because of the concept of Single Point of Responsibility.

A Single Point of Responsibility (also cited in our Sept. 21 column) means that under its contract, the maintenance provider guarantees that 20 trains will be running during peak hours and that it will take full responsibility for breakdowns. That is why in its 12 years of MRT maintenance, Sumitomo also took care of overhauling, signaling, etc., without additional cost to the government.

(First published in the Philippine STAR of October 2, 2014)

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