Paolo Romero  | Philstar Global | September 26, 2017

Sen. Grace Poe yesterday censured maintenance provider Busan Universal Rail Inc. (BURI) for suing an official of the Department of Transportation (DOTr) for graft when she said it is the firm that has defrauded the government in the maintenance of Metro Rail Transit 3 (MRT-3) coaches.

Poe said BURI should instead be held liable for supplying spare parts that did not undergo the necessary inspection and certification, which puts in peril the lives of MRT-3 passengers.

"BURI was even brazen enough to sue the DOTr when it was the one defrauding the government," Poe said.

"Let's look at BURI's record and we can think of only one word: horrible. They are so thick-skinned that they’re the one suing the government," she added.

DOTr Undersecretary for rail Cesar Chavez recently bared that BURI bought the vehicle logic unit (VLU) from a shop in Bangkal, Makati City identified as Diamond Pearl Development and Marketing Corp.

VLU is a highly specialized equipment that functions as the train's automatic protection system.

Diamond Pearl Development and Marketing Corp. is reportedly owned by brothers William and Marlo dela Cruz, who are associated with BURI.

BURI recently filed a graft case against Chavez for withholding payment for the VLU. BURI is demanding reimbursement for its purchase of VLU purportedly worth P4 million made by Canadian firm Bombardier Transportation Signal Ltd.

But Chavez said no such equipment had been ordered from Bombardier, maker of MRT-3 safety components for signalling system.

Chavez also noted that from January 2016 to July 2017, there were 3,824 train removals; 833 unloading incidents; 98 service interruptions and six derailments.

Poe described the maintenance problems besetting the MRT-3 as an ongoing "train robbery."

"Where in the world will you find a precision device being bought at a place known for selling 'chop-chop' spare parts?" the senator added.

Poe also said her office was able to obtain a copy of the sales invoice that showed the purchase of two pieces of VLUs worth P4 million.

Chavez had said that the Commission on Audit requires that spare parts procured must have a certificate of origin, manufacturer's inspection report, certificate of warranty, invoice receipt and inspection report.

Without these, the payment could not be made and the official who will order the payment will be liable for graft.

Another mystery is the ownership of Diamond Pearl, which has Marlo dela Cruz as one of its incorporators.

Poe said Dela Cruz has been mentioned in several corruption controversies in the defunct Department of Transportation and Communications, including allegedly attempting to extort money from the ambassador of the Czech Republic.

The senator said she may call for another hearing on the frequent MRT breakdowns and compel the attendance of the Dela Cruz brothers. Marlo dela Cruz did not appear at the hearing called by Poe last May, citing the sub judice rule as he was already facing criminal charges before the Sandiganbayan anti-graft court.

Poe also noted that the DOTr has been moving slowly in taking definite action against BURI, several months after it raised the possibility of terminating the contract due to the series of incidents linked to the maintenance of the train system. "I am raising these concerns because we are in the midst of the budget season. We have here the DOTr asking for billions of pesos, but which cannot guarantee something very basic: that the MRT will run and will run safely," she added. For 2018, the DOTr is asking for a P61.05-billion budget, including P7.51 billion for the MRT-3. Included in the P7.51-billion budget is the P1.73-billion appropriations for MRT-3 operation and maintenance.

But Poe said she would ask the Senate finance committee to cut the amount appropriated for the operations and maintenance until the DOTr can justify that it would be used for the benefit of the public.

"Are we going to give this maintenance firm more millions from the budget?" she said.