Editorial | The Standard | December 30, 2015

THE commuter train that skid off the tracks and rammed through a concrete barrier to crash land onto a busy intersection last year is emblematic of the ineptitude and corruption that plague an administration that prides itself on following the straight path.

The accident, which injured more than 30 people, was the direct result of the government’s decision to ditch the MRT’s previous maintenance provider in favor of an inexperienced company that, it turned out, had ties with the general manager of the MRT at the time. Contrary to law, the maintenance contract was awarded without a public bidding.

When these shenanigans were brought to light, the Office of the Ombudsman mysteriously left out from the charge sheet the Cabinet official who signed off on the anomalous contract, Transport Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya, a close ally of President Benigno Aquino III.

Remarking on this, the senator who led the congressional investigation into the MRT mess said she was puzzled why Abaya was not charged.

Just as mysteriously, the Ombudsman filed graft charges against the former general manager and others implicated in the anomalous transaction, even though the amounts involved would have justified a more serious case of plunder.

But not one to believe in the saying “Once bitten, twice shy,” Secretary Abaya has approved a P3.81-billion maintenance contract with yet another untested consortium, using the existence of “an emergency”—the poor service and rapid deterioration of the train system—to justify awarding the deal without public bidding.

The Department of Transportation and Communications under Abaya also claims that it had tried to bid out the long-term maintenance contract twice, but there were no takers—a fact that critics say is the result of bidding rules that were designed to fail so that the department would be free to pursue negotiated contracts with favored companies.

The excuse of “an emergency” is particularly insulting, since it is clear from the foregoing facts that it was Abaya himself who had created an emergency by dropping a proven maintenance provider that had kept the trains running before he became Transport secretary.

It is no coincidence that Abaya also figured in President Aquino’s optimistic prediction two years ago that he and Abaya would be willing to have themselves run over by a train if the LRT expansion to Cavite were not completed by the end of 2015.

That boast has turned out to be a major embarrassment for the President, who is suffering from a bad case of foot-in-mouth disease.

Under Abaya’s capable management, not only is the project incomplete—it has not even begun.

The President need not worry about being run over, however. With Abaya in charge, chances are good that the train might not even arrive.