POSTSCRIPT / December 3, 2015 / Thursday


Opinion Columnist

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Roxas dodges blame for MRT sorry state

LIBERAL Party presidential candidate Mar Roxas was asked in a forum last Wednesday if he thought he did enough to ease traffic and other transportation problems when he was transportation and communications secretary from July 2011 to September 2012.

The former DoTC secretary said among other things that the Metro Rail Transit Line-3 (MRT3) contract, which also passed through his hands, was tainted with “original sin”, impliedly blaming previous administrations for its defects.

In the “Meet Your Candidates” forum held Nov. 25 at the Manila Polo Club in Makati were members of the Harvard Club of the Philippines, the Kellog School of Management Alumnae Association of the Philippines and the Wharton-Penn Alumni Association. Roxas himself is a Wharton alumnus.

“This is a contract that started out in original sin,” Roxas said. “The contract itself was anomalous and the contract binds the government to continue this program.” It was drafted under President Cory Aquino and awarded during the time of President Fidel V. Ramos.

Roxas pointed out that the MRT contract only allows the operator to buy new trains and assures the operator of 15-percent annual return.

In the forum, independent presidential candidate Sen. Grace Poe Llamanzares said of the unreliable, inefficient and unsafe MRT service: “People deserve better. It’s a matter of vision, planning, execution and leadership that could have spelled the difference.”

Roxas said the “original sin” in the MRT was the build-lease-transfer contract between the Ramos administration and a private consortium led by Robert John Sobrepeña’s group, that guaranteed 15-percent annual return and allowed only the private builder and not the government to buy the trains.

On the procurement of new coaches, the first train body copied from the original Czech design was delivered recently by the Chinese manufacturer behind schedule, without engines and therefore incapable of undergoing the required testing.

Past admins blamed for MRT mess

USING the administrations of Cory Aquino and Fidel Ramos as scapegoats for MRT problems, Roxas glossed over the fact that the mishaps and stoppages started during his term after he appointed MRT general manager Al Vitangcol III.

Roxas did not mention that the contract originally guaranteed 21-percent return for investors when Cory Aquino first bid it out in 1991, to entice investors to put in capital for the first MRT at a time when government finances were still recovering from the Marcos years.

This was a priority project of the Cory administration. When Ramos took over, he brought the rate of return down from 21 to 15 percent.

Roxas should have known that 15 percent was not anomalous but advantageous to the government, because the Philippines was paying 25-year bonds during that time at 18 percent.

The MRT was actually getting less than what the Philippines was already paying then, given that the project also has a similar 25-year term.

On the other hand, it was during the term of Roxas at the DoTC when anomalous transactions ending up in dangerous commutes for the riding public started to happen with alarming frequency.

Based on contract, the private conglomerate MRT Corp. is supposed to handle maintenance, which it did for 12 years with Sumitomo.

A private consortium of companies which includes Ayala Land, Metro Global Holdings, Greenfield Development, Anglo-Phil Holdings, Ramcar Inc., among other firms, MRTC owns the system until 2025. It is in charge of operation and maintenance, while DOTC assumes all administrative functions such as regulation of fares and operations.

In 2012, under Roxas, DoTC took over maintenance of the MRT. His appointee Vitangcol suddenly terminated the contract of Sumitomo, which had been servicing the MRT from the start, and replaced it without bidding with PH Trams, an unqualified maintenance provider that was incorporated after it was awarded the project.

The “single point of responsibility” practice that Sumitomo assumed was disregarded. Worse, while the contract for maintenance included services and spare parts, the new maintenance provider did not buy spare parts even if they had already been paid.

The situation worsened that at one inspection it was discovered that there were no more stock rails and that the MRT was illegally using rails from the Light Rail Transit, an entirely different entity.

CoA disallows P4.5-B DoTC transfer

AS FORMER DoTC secretary, Roxas could not have been unaware of the anomalous allocation of funds that the Commission on Audit called attention to in its 2011 annual report.

The CoA disallowed the receipt by LRTA of P4.5 billion from DoTC that was allocated supposedly to cover the acquisition of new light rail vehicles for the expansion of the MRT system.

This allocation was disallowed, because the fund transfer was made only under a DoTC-LRTA memorandum of agreement without any supporting work program and with no bidding by LRTA. The release was questioned also because there is an existing BLT agreement between DoTC and MRTC on the same subject.

Vitangcol, who sank the system into trouble when he terminated the contract of Sumitomo and replaced it with the PH Trams, has been charged with his five cohorts with graft before the Sandiganbayan.

The Office of the Ombudsman filed the charges for their roles in the anomalous grant of a multimillion-dollar contract to maintain rail services in 2012 and 2013. Transportation Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya, who signed the contract, was cleared.

Charged with Vitangcol were his uncle-in-law Arturo Soriano, who is the provincial accountant of Pangasinan; Wilson de Vera, who ran for mayor under the Liberal Party in Calasiao, Pangasinan; Marlo de la Cruz, an LP campaign supporter in Manaoag; Manolo Marali; and Federico Remo.

They are the incorporators of PH Trams (Philippine Trans Rail Management and Services Corp.), which cornered the interim maintenance deal worth $1.15 million a month without public bidding.

(First published in the Philippine STAR of December 3, 2015)

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