Jerome Aning, Philip C. Tubeza | Philippine Daily Inquirer | November 20, 2017

The National Bureau of Investigation will be in charge of the probe of an Metro Rail Transit-3 (MRT-3) car which got detached from the two front cars on Nov. 16, leaving around 140 passengers stranded on the tracks.

In a statement on Sunday, Transportation Undersecretary for rails Cesar Chavez said the NBI special action unit led by lawyer Joel Tovera "[would] lead the investigation on the decoupling incident of the Light Rail Vehicle #68 from Index (train) #5, and the missing Messma Card, commonly referred to as the black box of the LRV."

The third car got detached from the train on the northbound tracks between the Ayala and Buendia stations. No passengers suffered injuries although they were forced to alight from the car and walk on the tracks toward Ayala station.

Operations disrupted

The incident also prompted the MRT-3 to suspend operations for about 30 minutes.

Based on the initial investigation of MRT engineers and technical experts, the train car could have been decoupled through electrical or mechanical means.

According to the train driver, the "communication error" icon for the third car lit up on his display panel but he was told by the MRT control center to proceed to the Buendia station where he found out he was pulling just the first two cars.

The MRT said its vehicles were equipped with fail safe mechanisms that would stop a train right on the tracks in the event of a decoupling incident.

The human intervention angle came up after the Messma or black box was found missing.

Chavez said he met with Tovera at the NBI office in Manila for two hours. Present during the meeting were MRT director for operations Mike Capati, MRT safety and security unit chief Willy Serano, his assistant Jess Duque, and lawyer Dona Samson from the Department of Transportation office of the undersecretary for legal affairs.

DOTr, MRT hands-off probe

"I conveyed to NBI the message of Secretary Art Tugade that DOTr and MRT [would] fully cooperate in this investigation. We thank the NBI for immediately forming a team of investigators. DOTr and MRT will no longer make any statement regarding the investigation. This is already in the hands of the NBI. If there is a statement, they will be the ones who will give it in the coming days," Chavez added.

On Saturday, President Rodrigo Duterte offered an apology to the public, saying the missing Messma card had raised suspicions of sabotage although this was "not an excuse" for the incident.

"It would indicate sabotage or something did it intentionally. So maybe the connecting mechanisms there or equipment seems to be—it could not be found or it’s not there when it’s supposed to be there," he said.

"Well, that is one angle that they are trying to… But this does not—this is not an excuse actually," he added.

"We offer no excuse, but apologies maybe to the public for the inconvenience caused," Mr. Duterte said.

Chavez on Thursday said initial findings showed that the Messma card of the decoupled train was missing. The card, which functions like an airplane's black box, records all interventions done on a train.

"Who has the capability to remove the black box?" Chavez said in a text message to reporters. "Is the motive simply to cover up the mistake of the train operation of [the decoupled cars] or part of an effort to sabotage the entire operation?" he added.

The MRT-3 ferries almost 500,000 passengers a day.