The Philippine Star | September 27, 2014

The Office of the Ombudsman has ordered the investigation of several officials of the Department of Transportation and Communications led by its head, Joseph Emilio Abaya. The probe will determine if the officials should be indicted for corruption in connection with the award of a maintenance contract for the Metro Rail Transit 3.

The deal, worth $1.15 million a month, was awarded without public bidding to a group that included a firm set up with just P625,000 in paid-up capital less than two months before the deal was awarded.

The lucky company, Philippine Trans Rail Management and Services Corp. or PH Trams, happened to have among its incorporators an uncle-in-law of Al Vitangcol III, who was earlier sacked as MRT 3 head following reports about the questionable deal. Another incorporator was a Liberal Party candidate who lost in his 2013 mayoralty bid in Pangasinan. PH Trams executives are included in the probe ordered by the ombudsman.

The case is apart from a probe conducted by the National Bureau of Investigation on allegations that Vitangcol, through some of the PH Trams officials, had tried to extort $30 million from a Czech company in exchange for a deal to supply MRT trains. The Department of Justice found it necessary to forward the NBI findings to Malacañang for appropriate action. The case is gathering dust at the Palace.

Abaya has defended the maintenance contract that he approved, saying there was an emergency that warranted its award without public bidding. The ombudsman did not buy the existence of an emergency.

For MRT riders, the emergency award has failed to result in better service. The past months have seen services in the MRT as well as the Light Railway Transit disrupted by glitches and a serious accident that DOTC officials initially tried to blame on train drivers.

President Aquino must ensure that his administration will extend full cooperation in the probe by the Office of the Ombudsman. At the same time, he must make it clear to DOTC officials that the probe should not lead to worse disruptions in the LRT and MRT. The train services are a mess, and the ones suffering are the masses. The ombudsman’s probe will test the President’s commitment to daang matuwid and the welfare of his “bosses.”