POSTSCRIPT / August 31, 2017 / Thursday


Opinion Columnist

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A simple solution to MRT glitches

IT HAS been over a year since President Duterte assumed office, riding on the campaign promise of fixing the MetroRail Transit (MRT-3), among other things. Yet to this day, reports of breakdowns and glitches are in the news almost every day.

What’s puzzling is that the solution looks simple: Return the system’s maintenance to the private owners, the MRT Corp., and hold them to their responsibility under the contract of maintaining an efficiently functioning train system.

It may be time President Duterte took a direct hand and seriously looked at the MRTC proposal on the table.

Completed in July 2000, the MRT-3 running in the middle of EDSA is operated by the Department of Transportation (formerly DoTC, now DoTr), but maintenance of the trains is a responsibility of the private sector (MRT Corp.) which it outsourced to Sumitomo Corp., the Japanese company that designed, built and maintained MRT-3 efficiently with hardly any glitch for 12 years.

In October 2012, under then DoTC Secretary Emilio Abaya, the government took over the maintenance by not renewing the contract of Sumitomo. In its place, the DoTC appointed PH Trams, a joint venture with dubious experience in maintaining light rail vehicles, without public bidding.

Who can forget the “runaway train” — the first major breakdown in August 2014? A train gone loose careened down the southbound tracks to the Taft Avenue terminal, jumped off the tracks, toppled a post, damaged three cars on EDSA and injured 32 train passengers, eight car riders and some pedestrians.

That occurred after MRT maintenance was transferred to PH Trams. Three years later — now under Busan Universal Railway Inc. (BURI) — the MRT remains as dangerous to ride as ever. The decadence has worsened, reportedly because there has been no purchase of spare parts since Sumitomo was replaced.

The MRTC has been reaching out to the DoTr proposing a solution, but it seems its officials are deaf to the idea – and blind to the fact that under the original Build-Lease-Transfer agreement between the MRTC and the government, the MRTC is the only proper contracting party to maintain the system.

In other words, it is the MRTC, the owner, that should choose and contract out the maintenance provider for the MRT-3.

The MRTC reportedly has offered the DoTr a $150-million solution. The proposal is on a “pass through basis,” meaning the MRTC will do this without profiting from it. The DoTr is being asked to revert to the arrangement in the BLT contract wherein the MRTC, as owner, will appoint and sign a contract with the maintenance provider.

Under MRTC’s fast-track rehabilitation proposal, the owners reportedly would begin with the purchase of spare parts worth at least $50 million. It would also hire at least 100 engineers for a full inspection of the entire system in 30 days, in preparation for its rehabilitation.

The MRTC says that if its proposal is accepted by the government, the system’s rehabilitation can be completed by the mid-term elections in 2019.

The proposal will see the return of the so-called Single Point of Responsibility. Today, when there is a breakdown or glitch, the DoTr and BURI point at each other. When Sumitomo was maintenance provider, it had the “single point of responsibility” and did not hold anyone else liable for technical failures.

Word is that the MRTC has informed President Duterte that it has spoken with Sumitomo to do the fast-track rehabilitation and maintenance of the system and that the MRT owners even invited the DoTr to join in the discussions with Sumitomo “to secure the best possible terms.”

• Transpo chief not licensed to drive

REACTING to a DZMM Teleradyo report on Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade renewing his driver’s license in just five minutes Tuesday, our Star colleague Boo Chanco remarked on Twitter “But he doesn’t drive. He told me himself. LTO didn’t give him a driving test?”

Re the driving test, I explained: “Pag license RENEWAL lang, wala ng driving test. Madali talaga ang renewal if there are no changes in the license-holder’s details.”

Boo replied: “But Dik, he told us he doesn’t know how to drive and cited the irony coz he is transport sec. I assume he has no license.”

As other tweeters joined in, I decided to ask Tugade directly to settle the question. In answer to my text, the secretary said that he has no driver’s license, never had one, and had never driven a motor vehicle. So, Boo was right!

Tugade’s text-replies to me: “1. No valid driver’s license 2. Never had one 3. Never drove a car. I have mentioned these openly in the past. At hindi ko po kinahihiya ito — lumaki po kaming mahirap at kapos.

“Me undertaking the process was for demonstration purposes only and not to get a license. I have never had a license in my lifetime. This was made clear to the staff when they made me do the form. In fact, I did not fill out portions re driving skills/data. After, I gave instructions to remove my details from files and records. I also destroyed the ‘license’ issued. Btw, in the accomplished form I also intentionally committed ‘errors’ so I could observe how errors are corrected.”

Tugade’s staff said that the rollout of the plastic licenses with five-year validity, initially at the Land Transportation Office in Quezon City, was also meant to test how fast the system can renew or issue a new license, from encoding of the driver’s data up to the printing of the license card.

The secretary got his “license” in five minutes despite the correction of his “errors.” He told LTO Chief Edgar Galvante to study how to minimize human (manual) intervention in the processing of applications to eliminate “fixing” and corruption.

(First published in the Philippine STAR of August 31, 2017)

Tatang Dik, it looks like those who ran the rail systems during the Aquino II administration just maximized ‘earnings’ from the maintenance contracts. Since they are all Liberal Party officials and functionaries could they have done it for the party or for themselves or both? Just asking. BTW I am sending you a typical PNA story. Read on and weep or laugh depending on your mood. Veteran newsman Joel Palacios and four others met their violent death when a despondent knife-wielding man, who had a quarrel with his girlfriend, ran amuck inside a condominium in suburban Pasay City Tuesday night, police said. Joel Palacios, 70, former news reporter of Reuters, Associated Press and various leading national newspapers in Metro Manila, including as desk editor of Manila Standard, had just come out from his condo unit at the 16th floor of Central Park Condominium to jog when he was spotted by Robert Garan, armed with a knife and was seething with anger. Before knowing what was happening, Garan stabbed Palacios, who fell to his knees begging for his life. He shouted for help. Delpris Elorde, Palacios’ common-law wife, heard the scream. “I rushed outside our condo unit to help him,” Elorde said in an interview with this writer Wednesday. “I saw a helpless Joel down on the floor. When he saw me he told me to go back inside our condo unit. But I ignored his warning. Run to save your life. I’m dying, so be it!” Elorde said, sobbing. “But I was determined to help Joel when the knife-wielder thrust his knife towards me. I used my hands to parry his stabbing spree. I sustained five wounds on my left arm and one on my right palm. Still, I held my ground,” she said. “Then he stabbed twice, hitting my hips. Despite the wounds, I managed to run to the exit door then I fell down the stairs. Luckily he did not pursue his attack on me,” Elorde added. “When I turned my head, I saw him going up to the 17th floor where the knife-wielder stabbed to death a 12-year old girl who was walking in the hallway,” she added. Elorde said her sister Resmy arrived and brought her to the hospital. “Joel was on his way to jog along the hallway of the condominium as he used to do every afternoon but on early Tuesday evening, death came like a thief in the night,” she said. Elorde also said that during the incident, Abegail, their three-year old daughter, arrived at the scene unmindful of what was happening. Fortunately, Elorde’s sister hurriedly whisked the child before the knife-wielder saw them. The Pasay City police said that aside from Palacios, the suspect also stabbed to death four people, and wounded four others. Before the bloody incident, Garan had a quarrel with his girlfriend, Emelyn Sagun inside their condo unit. Out of anger, the suspect stabbed Sagun before he went amok, stabbing people along the hallway. Garan was later shot dead by responding policemen when he resisted arrest at the 22nd floor of Central Park Condominium on D. Jorge Street, Barangay 132 around 11 p.m., five hours after the suspect ran amok, according to Director Oscar Albayalde, chief of the National Capital Region Police Office. Palacios will be remembered by his peers as a media icon in his own right. As a close friend in the media industry, Joel’s passion for news writing is at par with the best. Joel was a news writer for Reuters and Associated Press before he was named as chief of public affairs of the Social Security System (SSS) over two decades until he retired five years ago. During his heyday in mainstream media, Joel was always on the go looking for news. After his retirement, Joel returned to the mainstream media and joined Manila Standard. Last year, he called up and told me he was going to Cambodia to work as a writer. However, he returned to the Philippines early this year and decided to spend his retirement writing a book. Palacios wrote six chapters of his new book when he met his untimely death last Tuesday. His peers will long remember Joel as a good friend with a humble heart. Joel’s remains are at Arlington Funeral Home along Araneta Avenue, Quezon City. Burial will be announced later.

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