By Aurea Calica | The Philippine Star | October 24, 2014

MANILA, Philippines - Malacañang has still no update on the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI)’s report supposedly recommending that former Metro Rail Transit-3 general manager Al Vitangcol III be charged with attempted extortion.

Presidential Communications Operations Office Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said President Aquino was “fulfilling his duties,” when asked if Malacañang was sitting on the report.

He assured the public earlier that the issue would not be swept under the rug.

Last May, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima submitted the NBI report to Aquino.

She said in earlier reports that Aquino would normally not change anything in reports submitted to him, only that he would need time to go over them because he would scrutinize even the annexes.

Former Czech ambassador Josef Rychtar had accused Vitangcol of trying to extort $30 million from Czech firm Inekon in exchange for a contract to supply 48 new trains for the MRT expansion project.

Inekon was reportedly blacklisted from the bidding after it refused to pay Vitangcol.

The Office of the Ombudsman has conducted a preliminary investigation and initiated administrative adjudication against Vitangcol and Wilson de Vera, a representatives of the joint venture PH Trams-CB&T in connection with the P3.76-billion MRT-3 capacity expansion project.

Rychtar and Josef Husek, Inekon Group chief executive officer and chairman, alleged that Vitangcol and De Vera attempted to extort money in exchange for the service and maintenance contract.

Vitangcol is facing charges of dishonesty, grave misconduct, conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service, and violation of the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees in connection with the expansion project.

MRT buyout opposed

The proposed MRT buyout is not the solution to the problems on train services.

That’s the view of Senate finance committee chairman Francis Escudero.

“While it is true that we need to improve our mass transport system, I have not been convinced by the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) that a takeover with a very high price tag is what we need at this time,” he said.

Transportation Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya said during a recent budget hearing that the  buyout plan is not enough to address MRT woes. The government still needs to bid out the contract for a new maintenance provider.

Escudero said the P54 billion that the DOTC has set aside for the MRT-3 takeover would be sourced from a loan,  not from the national treasury.

“The DOTC can bid that out now without shelling out P54 billion of taxpayer’s money,” he said.

Escudero said the P54 billion eyed for MRT buyout is not reflected in the 2015 General Appropriations Act (GAA).

“That amount which was authorized by DOF (Department of Finance) Secretary Cesar Purisima to effect the MRT-3 buyout is actually a loan,” he said.

“Thus, although it is unprogrammed once the loan has been signed, it will reflect in the GAA and the DOTC is apparently to push through with the buyout.”

He is most likely to slash the amount from the GAA or realign it to more essential services for the general public like the much needed infrastructure to ease traffic congestion and disaster preparedness programs. – With Christina Mendez