By Marlen V. Ronquillo | August 2, 2014

What section of the Aquino bureaucracy is unblemished by integrity and competence and where corruption and illegal deals have been the dominant narrative? Easy to answer—the MRT 3 in particular and the railway system in general. The top story of the Manila Times on July 28, written by Chairman Emeritus Dante A. Ang, on a P140 million bribe allegedly

received by a power player in the Aquino administration from train supplier Inekon, was just one in the collection of shady deals so far piled up by the MRT 3.

Who pocketed the P140 million? No one in authority seems to be interested in finding out? Why are the integrity jihadists in the Aquino administration suddenly limp and wimpy on the corruption issues that relate to the MRT 3? The intensity of purpose that has been dedicated to the inquiry of the pork barrel scam to jail and humiliate members of Congress, from prominent senators and obscure congressmen, does not apparently apply to the morass of corruption and incompetence that is the MRT 3.

Meanwhile, journalists cannot seem to encounter a single MRT 3 issue that is beyond suspicion, that is without a dark and shady side. Take the case of the MRT’s planned acquisition of 48 trains worth P4.5 billion from Dalian Locomotive, a China-based supplier. On the surface, this is a ro utine thing. The beaten-up, breakdown-prone trains of the MRT 3 require the acquisition of new replacement trains. But the acquisition plan is not without a legal baggage.

Malacañang originally boasted that the MRT modernization would be funded by the DAP. The P4.5 billion train purchase fund was part of the 114 priority projects worth more than P140 billion that DAP would bankroll, according to the Palace itself. The 2013 bidding held to pick the supplier was premised on the availability of DAP money to pay the chosen supplier, Dalian.

The SC ruling on the unconstitutionality of the DAP turned everything upside down. After the ruling, the Palace came out with all sorts of knee-jerk reactions, including the declaration that the acquisition of new trains for the MRT 3 was not even part of the 114 pet projects of the Aquino administration that the outlawed DAP would have funded.

With the DAP declared unconstitutional and with the MRT train acquisition declared as a non-priority project, there was absolutely no funding source for the MRT train supply contract won by Dalian. Until, recently, when the DOTC, using twisted logic, had a new spin to the funding story: the 2014 General Appropriations Act would fund the train purchase. The DOTC even announced a delivery date for the 48 trains from Dalian.

How was that again? How can a 2013 bidding that was premised on the availability of DAP money, be funded by the 2014 GAA? Can funding a declared non-priority project be that flexible? Can you just move money around and change the funding source at whim? Every bid , whether for an infra project or for a supply contract, is anchored on the availability of funds.

Funding a supply contract awarded in 2013 on the premise that there was money for it in 2013 with money from the 2014 GAA is just as illegal as the DAP. It can’t be done, unless one invokes legal mumbo jumbo to cover that up.

Or, unless some top Aquino people intends to shaft the public again with the reckless jugging of public funds and funding sources.

The bid on the train supply was illegal in the first place, according to legal experts. The DOTC cannot select a train supplier because, technically, the MRT 3 is still under the private operator, the MRTC. Until the government gets 100 percent of the MRT shares, every important decision has to be made by the private owners.

The Commission on Audit (COA) also questioned the DOTC’s plan to use P4.5 billion in government money to buy new trains for the EDSA MRT. The DOTC embarked on the purchase plan without fulfilling two requirements, a cost benefit analysis and a detailed program of work. The purchase plan may not be in sync with overall government procurement rules, according to a COA audit report.

The MRT 3 maintenance and operations contract ( M&O) is set to expire this month and the genesis of the contract is as shadowy as the funding source for the Dalian-supplied trains. APT Global, the current contractor, was given an interim M&O contract after the consortium given the award in 2012—PH Trams—turned out to be a corporation founded by the uncle in law of fired MRT head Al Vitangcol. But the cronyism story did not end with the exit of PH Trams.

APT Global‘s contract to do the M&O for MRT 3 was signed by, remember this name—Mario de la Cruz—who happens to be one of the principals of the crony firm PH Trams. The usual tangled web of deceit. Is APT Global an adjunct of the crony firm PH Trams? Your guess is as good as mine. Either the DOTC people did not bother to check on who the principals of the APT Global are or was part of the conspiracy to perpetrate a brazen case of crony capitalism.

APT has gone into bigger things, mind you. It is one of the listed bidders for a P1.3 billion M&O contract for LRT 2 that the DOTC will award soon.

There is a chance, a real chance, that the crony firm APT Global, may win the billion peso contract, given the corrupt and bizarre state of affairs at the country’s premier rail system.