Robertzon Ramirez | The Philippine Star | December 1, 2017

An official of the Department of Transportation (DOTr) denied reports that the agency has approved the return of Japanese contractor Sumitomo to maintain and rehabilitate the Metro Rail Transit 3 (MRT-3).

"They are not yet the new maintenance service provider," said Tj Batan, assistant secretary for railways of the DOTr as he denied reports that the government has rehired Sumitomo, the former contractor of the rail system.

Batan pointed out the DOTr and the Japanese government are negotiating with representatives of Sumitomo and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries to pave the way for their return as MRT-3 service provider.

The DOTr earlier said it was hoping to close a government-to-government agreement with Tokyo pursuant to the Philippine-Japan infrastructure development cooperation framework.

After the agreement for official development assistance is signed, the maintenance and rehabilitation contractors would be hired pursuant to Japanese government and the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) rules.

The DOTr said it is closely considering the joint venture of Sumitomo-Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, being designer and builder of the MRT-3 system from 1998 to 2000 and from 2000 to 2012, as well due to their background and experience with MRT-3.

Batan said they are scheduled to sign the government-to-government agreement in the third week of December, which would follow talks between the DOTr and the service provider.

Should the agreement between the DOTr and the Sumitomo-Mitsubishi Heavy move forward and after reviewing the condition of the train system, Batan said that is the only time they can start working on the MRT-3.

He said Sumitomo-Mitsubishi Heavy could start operations with MRT-3 as early as April or May next year.

"The first step any maintenance service provider can start working is for them to review the condition of the system, so there will be a couple of months to do that and once that's done, the maintenance service provider can come in and start doing [the job]," Batan said.

The DOTr has terminated MRT-3's contract with its former service provider Busan Rail Inc. (BURI) last Nov. 6 due to alleged poor performance of the firm and failure to procure spare parts for the train system.

BURI denied DOTr's statement, saying the MRT-3 has provided better service under its term.

BURI bagged the three-year P3.8-billion contract with the former Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) under the term of former transportation secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya.