Ellson A. Quismorio and Charissa M. Luci | Manila Bulletin | March 23, 2017
Department of Transportation (DOTr) officials during the Aquino and Duterte administrations ought to be charged with plunder for the onerous service contract it entered into with a foreign company that admitted its inability to maintain the trains and the tracks of the Metro Rail Transit-3 (MRT-3).
Rep. Jericho Nograles of the Puwersa ng Bayaning Atleta (PBA) Party-list said yesterday that Busan Rail, Inc. (BURI) has admitted that it is not equipped to conduct proper and quality maintenance on the MRT-3 despite its whopping P3.81-billion three-year service contract.
During the House Committee on Transportation hearing, Nograles said BURI practically admitted that it did not have the right equipment and the spare parts needed to conduct critical maintenance work to ensure the safety and the efficiency of the MRT-3.
Worse, BURI even tried to cover-up its incompetence by initially denying Nograles's claim that the company subcontracted a small-time machine shop in Bulacan to conduct truing work on 16 pieces of rail wheels instead of using the prescribed Wheel Lathe Machine until the solon showed them a copy of the shop’s delivery receipt.
"They lied when I confronted them about this outsourcing of truing service for the MRT's rail wheels. At first they claimed that they are the ones manually grinding and truing the rail wheels but they suddenly remembered outsourcing this to a Bulacan machine shop when I showed them the delivery receipt.
"Halatang niloloko tayo ng mga ito (Obviously they are fooling us)," Nograles said.
Nograles said that BURI should have been disqualified outright by then Department of Transportation and Communication (DOTC) Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya because it did not have the right tools to conduct maintenance work for a major rail system like the MRT-3.
"How can they have proper maintenance of the MRT-3 system if they do not even have a Wheel Lathe Machine? We will pay them P3.8 billion with their saliva as their only capital?" Nograles asked.
Apart from being ill-equipped, Nograles said that BURI has not complied with its commitment to overhaul the 43 MRT 3 coaches which are currently inoperable. They’re also supposed to completely replace its signaling system within 24 months since securing the contract in January 2016.
Nograles said the maintenance provider has yet to overhaul a single coach, while the MRT-3 signaling system remains problematic.
Nograles said that apart from alleged irregularities in the maintenance contract, the decision of the past DOTC management will also be questioned for purchasing the 48 China-made coaches that are incompatible with the existing coaches and operating system of the MRT-3.
"This maintenance contract and the purchase of incompatible MRT 3 coaches could lead to the indictment of several officials of the MRT and former officials of the DOTC for acts of plunder and grave abuse of authority,"
Meanwhile, Catanduanes Rep. Cesar Sarmiento, chairman of the House Committee on Transportation, has asked the DOTr and the Light Rail Transit Authority (LRTA) to "revisit and rectify" the onerous provisions of the Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) on the P2.8-billion common Light Rail Transit (LRT)-Metro Rail Transit (MRT) station project.
"You had the time to look over some provisions of the contract, which House members believe contain provisions which are disadvantageous to the government, such as the responsibility of the government to be in charge of vehicular traffic. But a provision in the MOA says that consent must be secured first by the government from the mall operators. What’s important is the general welfare and convenience of the riding public and not the interest of the two malls," he said, referring to SM and Trinoma malls where the common station will be constructed.
Speaker Pantaleon "Bebot" Alvarez warned that if the construction of the P2.8-billion for common MRT-LRT station project will be delayed, the government may end up being liable for penalties.
He said if that happens, the payment for the penalties should come from the pockets of the officials of the DOTr, led by Secretary Arthur Tugade.
"If the government will be penalized, it should be your fault. You want an ambitious project which has no budget and approval. If time comes that the government will pay for the penalties, the government should not pay for it, it should come from your personal money," he said, chiding the DOTr officials.
Alvarez sought the adoption of the 2009 proposed common station originally located in SM City North EDSA Annex. The location near SM North would only cost P500 million since SM paid P200 million for the naming rights, instead of the current proposed location by the DOTr.
DOTr Undersecretary Cesar Chavez admitted that if the construction of the 13,700-square meter common station will not be completed by 2019, the government will pay daily penalties to the Light Rail Manila Corporation (LMRC).
"We have an obligation to build the common terminal, if it is not completed, the government will be liable for payment for damages," he told the hearing.
He said the payment for penalties, which will be based on 30,000 daily ridership, will be sourced from Congress. "May pera ba kayo na pambayad, personally? (Do you have the money to pay for it?)," Alvarez asked.
Chavez said it would take 1.5 years for them to settle the process, and it would take another year for the construction of the common station.
"Hindi ba na-realize ni Secretary Tugade yan na kumuha kayo ng lubid at pinasok nyo ang ulo nyo? (Have Secretary Tugade not realized that it is like getting a rope that you put around your neck)" Alvarez said.
The government is expected to spend P2.8-billion for the common MRT-LRT station project which links Light Railway Transit Line 1 and Metro Rail Transit Lines 1 and 7. The construction of the 13,700-square meter common station is set to start by end-2017 and to be completed by 2019.