Louella Desiderio | The Philippine Star | July 12, 2017

The government is withholding payment of P200 million to Busan Universal Rail Inc. (BURI), the Mass rail Transit-3 (MRT-3) maintenance contractor widely blamed for the line's frequent breakdown.

Transportation Undersecretary for rails Cesar Chavez said payments not supported by documents are being withheld and that a review of the government's contract with BURI is in progress.

Asked whether the contract with BURI would be terminated, Chavez said the Department of Transportation (DOTr) would observe due process.

"The Office of the Undersecretary for Legal is now in charge of reviewing the contract," he said.

In a press briefing yesterday, BURI said it was trying to arrange a meeting with the Commission on Audit (COA) to clarify issues – specifically unfavorable ones – raised regarding its performance as maintenance operator of MRT-3.

BURI spokesman and legal counsel Charles Mercado said they are set to submit comments on the findings of the COA this week or next.

"Many of them are fair but they are omitting 2015 figures," Mercado said, referring to COA findings. "Why compare 2016 to 2014? It seems selective," he said.

According to the COA report on the DOTr released recently, the MRT-3 encountered 2,619 train removals, 63 service interruptions and 586 incidents of passenger unloading last year. The figures are 19.81 percent, 26 percent and 163.96 percent higher than in 2014, respectively.

COA said the interruptions increased even as BURI was getting paid 54.5 million monthly for the maintenance of MRT-3.

With the findings, the COA has recommended that DOTr evaluate BURI's explanation.

Mercado pointed out that comparing the 2016 figures with those recorded in the previous year would actually indicate a 20 percent drop in the number of glitches.

As of the first-half of this year, the number of train stoppages declined 17 percent from 2016.

Mercado said it is unfair to put the blame on the company for every incident of train stoppage as such is often caused by the system's poor rail condition.

Despite being underpaid, the company continues to work to serve the train system's passengers better, Mercado said.

BURI is a joint venture of South Korea's Busan Transport Corp., with local companies Edison Development & Construction, Tramat Mercantile Inc., TMI Corp. and Castan Corp. It took over the MRT-3's maintenance in January last year.

The MRT-3 runs along EDSA between North Ave. station in Quezon City and Taft Ave. station in Pasay City.