By John Paolo Bencito | The Standard | February 16, 2016
TRANSPORTATION Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya has admitted that the problems dogging the Metro Rail Transit are hurting the presidential campaign of administration candidate Manuel Roxas II.
“It’s a fact of life that people in Manila experience,” Abaya told CNN Philippines in a recent interview.
Abaya, acting president of the ruling Liberal Party, said the sorry state of the MRT and other transportation problems such as the chronic traffic congestion in Metro Manila were hurting Roxas’ chances as these have become important election issues for voters.
Roxas, a former Transportation secretary, has been on the receiving end of public anger in Metro Manila, a traditional opposition bailiwick.
The latest Standard Poll, conducted from Jan. 27 to Feb. 4, showed that only 10 percent of voters in Metro Manila were likely to vote for him if the elections were held tomorrow—far below the 35 percent of Senator Grace Poe, or the 22 percent showing of both Vice President Jejomar Binay and Davao Mayor Rodrigo Duterte.
The owners of the Metro Rail Transit III, MRT Holdings Inc. had earlier insinuated Roxas was directly responsible for the government’s anomalous maintenance contract with Philippine Trans Rail Management and Services Corp.
Roxas’ rival for the presidency, Poe, had repeatedly blamed the administration bet for the MRT’s current state.
Abaya said it was to be expected that Roxas, as a presidential candidate, would be under scrutiny for his performance as Transportation secretary.
He was quick to add, however, that a Roxas victory would not mean the problems that exist today would continue.
“The traffic and congestion are clearly not part of the straight path, but providing solutions to that is clearly part of it. The traffic that we’ve had was not created in the last five years,” Abaya said.
“We’re a growing economy and we have record sales [of cars] and we have to catch up in mass transportation systems. Those issues have been [existing] for the longest time,” Abaya said.
Earlier, President Benigno Aquino III said that the worsening traffic condition in the country should not cause distress because it is a sign of economic progress, adding that traffic could be attributted to record car sales that have outpaced the construction or widening of roads around the country.
“When you come home and you’re caught in traffic, just remember that people are running errands, not just loitering around. That is a sign of economic growth,” Aquino had said.
Abaya said Roxas would find solutions and not fault.
In the same interview, Abaya insisted that all MRT contracts signed under his watch were clean and fair, contrary to the Senate subcommittee report on the MRT pinning blame at him and DoTC officials for “gross inexcusable negligence” in allowing the deterioration of the MRT by not immediately hiring a competent maintenance provider.
“We have no worries. Our conscience is clear and we strictly implemented the procurement law,” he said.
He also laid the blame for the MRT-3 mess on its former general manager, Al Vitangcol, who has been charged for violating the anti-graft and corruption law.
On Monday, the MRT suspended trips from Shaw Boulevard in Mandaluyong City to Taft Avenue in Pasay City during the morning rush hour due to a rail break between Magallanes and Ayala stations.
Passengers were forced to get off the train and take buses along Edsa. Normal operations resumed after one hour.
Roxas’ spokesman, Akbayan Rep. Barry Gutierrez, said Roxas would definitely carry the burden of defending the administration, but said he was confident that his platform of continuity under the straight path will eventually make the difference to voters come May.
“It’s unavoidable,” Gutierrez said of the attacks hurled against Roxas, not only on the MRT issue but on every issue raised against the administration. “We expect that.”
Gutierrez also fended off attacks from Duterte, who had accused Roxas of being beholden to a mining magnate who owns the plane he has been using on the campaign trail, saying the mayor was not credible.
On Friday, Duterte accused Roxas of corruption for leasing planes from mining magnate Francis Eric Gutierrez, whose mining company SR Mining Inc. had been fined P7 million by the government in 2007 for over-extracting nickel ore.
“You [Roxas] have been using his planes. I have personally seen him [Roxas] use that plane in Davao. If that is not corruption, then what do you call that?” he told reporters at the Davao International Airport.
Despite being fined, Duterte said, Francis Eric Gutierrez was able to continue with his business because of his links to Roxas.
“Until now the operations haven’t been stopped because of the protection of Roxas,” Duterte said.
But Roxas’ spokesman said Duterte has “fabricated another story without basis.”
Another spokesperson for the ruling party, Caloocan Rep. Edgardo Erice, said that while Roxas is indeed leasing the private planes from the SRMI boss, Erice said that all their transactions were above board.
Erice, who also happens to be the mining executive’s friend and business partner, said it’s only normal for presidential candidates who are on the campaign trail to rent private planes.
Gutierrez said the ruling party is even willing to show the receipts for the lease of these private jets.
“Our challenge to other candidates, all of you who are using private vehicles, including private helicopters, jets in your sorties, show and declare your expenses. For us, we’re ready to show these campaign expenses to the Commission on Elections,” he said.