Jovee Marie N. dela Cruz & Lorenz S. Marasigan | BusinessMirror | November 22, 2017

The Department of Transportation (DOTr) on Tuesday filed before the Office of the Ombudsman a plunder complaint against former Cabinet members of the Aquino administration for the alleged anomalous P3.8-million Metro Rail Transit 3 (MRT 3) maintenance contract with Busan Universal Rail Inc. (Buri).

DOTr Undersecretary for Legal Affairs and Procurement Reinier Paul R. Yebra said facing the plunder charge are former Aquino administration Cabinet Secretaries Joseph Emilio A. Abaya of Transportation, Manuel A. Roxas II of Interior and Local Government, Florencio B. Abad of Budget, Cesar V. Purisima of Finance, Jericho L. Petilla of Energy, Mario G. Montejo of Science, Voltaire T. Gazmin of Defense, Rogelio L. Singson of Public Works and Highways and Arsenio M. Balisacan of Economic and Development.

Also included in the complaint were former MRT General Manager Roman R. Buenafe, former Transportation undersecretaries Rene K. Limcaoco, Catherine Gonzales, and Edwin Lopez, a certain Marlo de la Cruz, and former officials of Bids and Awards Committee and Buri.

"[They] set into motion a grand scheme of turning the DOTC [the now defunct Department of Transportation and Communication, the precursor of the DOTr] as a bottomless cash cow, entering into one anomalous procurement project after the other, in order to amass, accumulate and acquire ill-gotten wealth by taking advantage of their official position, authority and influence to unjustly enrich themselves at the expense and to the damage and prejudice of the Filipino people," the complaint said.

The DOTr accused former President Benigno S. Aquino III's Cabinet secretaries of violating the anti-plunder law, the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act and the Government Procurement Act.

"We have reason to believe that all of the foregoing elements are present here and all of the respondents should be held liable for the crime of plunder," the complaint said.

It added that the former government officials "eased out" Sumitomo Corp. and "replaced it with their own dummy corporations." The Japanese company Sumitomo was the former maintenance provider of MRT 3.

Abaya said he is confident that he, along with others cited for plunder of allegedly anomalous contracts, will win the case.

In a text message, Abaya said he is ready to face the cases filed against him, and will fully cooperate to put an end to issues thrown against him.

"As a former senior government official, I know full well that public office is a public trust. This means even after leaving office, I cannot, and will not, shirk my duty to face official proceedings to inquire into my stewardship of the DOTC," he added.

Abaya emphasized that he is confident that he will go unscathed from the accusations against him, citing above board-procurement methods.

"I am confident that any inquiry will show that any and all projects and agreements entered into, during not only my stint but during the Aquino administration, were done with full, rigorous compliance with the law, with honesty and in the public interest," he said.

The proceedings, he added, will only reveal his group's innocence.

"Both for myself and my subordinates, I am sure, we will be vindicated by the record. My only regret is that much-needed improvements will once again be delayed or even reversed because of the current unfounded allegations," he said.

The complaint added that Abaya, who replaced Roxas as head of the DOTC in 2012, awarded the P517.5- million MRT maintenance contract to PH Trams-CB&T and "started the rapid deterioration of MRT's trains, tracks, signaling, power supply and stations."

"The PH Trams is merely a dummy entity for the respondents belonging to the Liberal Party," the complaint said.

Meanwhile, the agency said de la Cruz's name repeatedly popped up during the Senate hearings conducted regarding the MRT-3 problems, where his role was questioned considering that he was connected with several maintenance providers that were awarded contracts during Abaya's time. It added that former Cabinet secretaries were part of the Government Procurement Policy Board, saying they "all countenanced the deliberate intent of the MRT-3 Bids and Awards Committee and Abaya to rig the bidding of the Buri Project to favor Buri."

On November 6 the DOTr revoked the maintenance contract with Buri. This was the third complaint filed against Abaya before the Office of the Ombudsman over the questionable MRT 3 maintenance contract.

At the same time, Party-list Rep. Jericho B. Nograles of Puwersa ng Bayaning Atleta on Tuesday said that a payola and commission system has allowed the existence of patently illegal and invalid government deals like the P3.8-billion MRT3 maintenance contract that was given in favor of Buri without any bidding.

In a statement, Nograles said the Office of the Ombudsman should start looking at the intricate system of corruption that enabled Buri to corner the MRT 3 maintenance- service contract, despite glaring discrepancies on the contract itself and Buri's sloppy services.

"I have received reports on an alleged payola scheme of past and present government officials that made this fake contract possible. I am in the process of verifying these facts and will expose them in the appropriate time and venue, but I really think that the Ombudsman should also take the initiative to investigate this large-scale corruption that put the MRT 3 in a terrible mess," Nograles said.

According to Nograles, since the Commission on Audit (COA) has already declared the MRT 3-Buri contract nonexistent and, therefore invalid, the millions of public funds that were already paid to Buri should be returned to the government.

"The COA has issued several notices of suspension on the payments made to Buri. According to the COA, Buri has no legal personality to collect payments from the DOTr and, therefore, should return the money," Nograles added.

Nograles admitted, though, that it may be impossible for Buri to return all the funds disbursed to them due to corruption.

"We are investigating and verifying if some personalities received bribes, commissions, campaign funds from this group. Buri may have also given commissions to past and present officials for every payment made to them," Nograles said.