Jarius Bundoc | The Philippine Star | January 25, 2016

Al Vitangcol is being singled out for granting the MRT-3 upkeep to a firm in which his uncle-in-law is an owner. Records show, however, that his DOTC higher-ups had similar conflicts of interest – yet eluded graft indictment.

Often pointed up are documents that show Transport Sec. Joseph Abaya to be most liable. With then-MRT-3 general manager Vitangcol, he had signed on Oct. 20, 2012 the $1.15-million-a-month maintenance to PH Trams. The firm has as incorporator-directors not only Vitangcol’s uncle Arturo Soriano, but also Liberal Party officers Marlo dela Cruz and Wilson de Vera. LP secretary general Abaya was about to assume then as the ruling party’s president.

There are more:

• Mar Roxas was still Transport chief and LP president when PH Trams started to muscle its way into MRT-3 in mid-2012. Dela Cruz was a fundraiser-campaigner in Pangasinan in his 2010 run as vice president. That year he had designated de Vera (a long-time US immigrant) as LP mayoralty candidate in Calasiao, Pangasinan. Roxas is now running for President under Noynoy Aquino’s “Daang Matuwid (Straight Path).”

• Metro Rail Transit Corp. (MRTC) chairman-president Tomas T. de Leon has a family member married to that of spouses Manolo and Alfreda Maralit, also PH Trams incorporator-directors. De Leon is a designee of the government’s Land Bank of the Philippines at the MRTC, the MRT-3’s private owner-builder. He is MRTC top cat by virtue of the 2009 purchase by LBP and sister Development Bank of the Philippines of 80 percent of MRTC’s economic shares. It was de Leon who endorsed to DOTC in mid-2012 CommBuilders and Transport (CB&T), which Manolo Maralit was brokering as joint venture partner of PH Trams.

• Philippine National Railways general manager Joseph Allan Dilay is a silent partner with dela Cruz in Global Epcom, the successor of PH Trams in Sept. 2013 as MRT-3 maintenance contractor. He was then PNR board member, appointed by Abaya to a term of July 2013-June 2014; he became PNR GM in Oct. 2013. Global Epcom stayed on till Jan. 8, 2016, the day Korea’s Busan Transport took over.

Today Marlo dela Cruz openly holds office at MRT-3 headquarters on North Avenue corner EDSA, Quezon City. His new fronts are four undercapitalized Filipino “principals” of the P140-billion Busan. Through the fronts he has rehired some maintenance workers of CB&T, which Abaya and present MRT-3 GM Roman Buenafe drove out last Jan. 8. The workers had not been paid their salaries and 13-month benefits in Dec., but are being made to report under new ID cards and uniforms (more on that in succeeding columns).

Records show that owner-builder MRTC in 2010 turned over to DOTC the commuter rail’s operation and maintenance. It told Roxas back then to bid out the maintenance, since Sumitomo’s ten-year contract had expired July 2010 and was merely being renewed every six months.

MRTC required that it be given the terms of reference. But DOTC never did, directors Rafael Perez de Tagle and Rogelio Bondoc Jr. (no relation) complained to P-Noy on Apr. 2, 2014. Instead, barely two weeks before Sumitomo’s latest extension was to expire in mid-Oct. 2012, Vitangcol supposedly told them to hold the bidding themselves. MRTC refused, due to lack of time.

Before that, Vitangcol reminded Roxas on May 17, 2012 of MRTC’s turnover to DOTC and the expiring Sumitomo extension. No reply.

On July 25, 2012, de Leon told Roxas the MRTC might as well retake control of maintenance. On the MRT-3’s copy of that letter, de Leon scribbled a marginal note referring CB&T to Vitangcol. CB&T was then and still is the maintenance manpower supplier of LRT-1.

About that time, July 2012, dela Cruz, de Vera and Vitangcol allegedly attempted to extort $30 million from Czech train maker Inekon. Czech ambassador Josef Rychtar exposed months later that it happened at his home in Makati, with Maralit witnessing as Inekon consultant. Vitangcol the next day allegedly demanded that Inekon partner with his uncle’s company, Rychtar added. Vitangcol denies all those. Maralit would later end up with dela Cruz, de Vera, and Soriano in PH Trams.

Undercapitalized PH Trams in Oct. 2012 was only two months old, with no experience in railways. Maralit allegedly brought in CB&T as manpower partner to PH Trams as spare parts procurer.

Abaya claims he was only two days in office when he signed the PH Trams contract on Oct. 20, 2012. This only highlights that he was taking the cue from predecessor Roxas about how to treat dela Cruz and de Vera. Rychtar and DOTC insiders aver that dela Cruz always shows photos and videos of Roxas in visits to his ancestral home in Manaoag, Pangasinan. Roxas claims he has not seen him for years.

A memo is on file that de Leon as early as Oct. 4, 2012, had warned Abaya of the folly of secret negotiations with PH Trams. Abaya extended PH Trams’ contract thrice, making him as liable for graft in favoring his unqualified LP-mates.

When MRT-3 facilities and services deteriorated and PH Trams was linked to the $30-million extortion, Abaya hurriedly replaced it. Yet the new contractor Global Epcom still had LP-mate dela Cruz as “authorized representative.” DOTC notices to the firm stated so.

Investigative journalist Erwin Tulfo snooped around at Global Epcom’s stated address. Personnel denied that the firm held office there. Mentioned instead was one owned by the wife of PNR GM Dilay. The Dilays used to be railways contractors for DOTC. That Abaya placed a supplier at the helm of the PNR is criminal.

Last Dec. 2015 Vitangcol reminded Abaya of his warnings since 2013 about graft in the P3.85-billion purchase of MRT-3 coaches from Chinese Dalian Corp. Abaya not only had ignored the info but even placed in the purchasing process the very DOTC-MRT-3 officials who junketed to China courtesy of Dalian

In that letter Vitangcol mentioned one Eugene Rapanut, member of the LP in Ilocos Sur, as telling him about how he got some legal hindrances removed so Dalian could enter.

Rapanut is now being mentioned as broker for Busan’s P3.81-billion negotiated contract with Abaya, using dela Cruz’s four firms as dummies.