June 30, 2016 | The Philippine Star | Michael Punongbayan and Louella Desiderio

MANILA, Philippines - Former Metro Rail Transit 3 general manager Al Vitangcol III filed graft charges yesterday against outgoing Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya and five other officials of the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) before the Office of the Ombudsman.

Vitangcol and a certain Leon Peralta accused the DOTC officials of receiving kickbacks and manipulating the bidding and procurement process for the purchase of new train coaches worth P3.7 billion in 2014 for a capacity expansion project, as well as of violating Republic Act 6713, the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees.

The complainants said Abaya, along with bids and awards committee chairman Jose Perpetuo Lotilla and members Rene Limcaoco, Julianito Bucayan Jr., Catherin Jennifer Gonzales and Roman Buenafe, received commissions from Dalian Locomotive and Rolling Stock Co. based on the admissions of company representative Antonio de Mesa himself and in his communications with a certain Eugene Rapanut.

DOTC officials were allegedly given two percent of the contract price totaling P75.187 million, while the BAC members got one percent amounting to P37.593 million.

"Clearly, the named respondents directly received a percentage for themselves in connection with the contract wherein they, as public officers in their official capacity, have intervened and in fact awarded the contract to Dalian," Vitangcol read the joint complaint.

"The exchange of communications between De Mesa and Rapanut not only bolsters the suspicions of Senator (Grace) Poe but provides clear and convincing evidence that money exchanged hands and that kickbacks were given to DOTC officials."

The complainants were referring to a report of the Senate committee on public service.

Vitangcol and Peralta alleged that the respondents gave Dalian unwarranted benefits, advantage and preference in violation of RA 3019.

The Office of the Ombudsman must look into the allegations and hold the DOTC officials administratively liable, they added.

'Nothing to hide'

In a text message yesterday, Abaya said he is open to an investigation by the Office of the Ombudsman on Vitangcol's allegations.

"We haven't received a copy of the complaint," he said. "However, we have always worked hard to ensure a level playing field in all our procurement activities throughout my time at DOTC."

Abaya said no irregularities occurred in the bidding for the P3.8-billion contract awarded to Dalian for the 48 new trains for the MRT-3 spanning North Avenue in Quezon City to Taft Avenue in Pasay City.

"As we have nothing to hide and are confident that all steps in connection with this procurement were aboveboard, we very much welcome an investigation by the ombudsman so that the truth may come out," he said.