Manila Standard | April 25, 2017

THERE is no longer any doubt that the Metro Rail Transit-3 has suffered from six years of mismanagement, incompetence and corruption that were the hallmarks of the Aquino administration's approach to public transportation. The urgent question now is if the Duterte administration is doing enough and acting quickly enough to arrest the transit system's rapid deterioration.

The record is not encouraging.

Last week, a party-list lawmaker accused the MRT-3 management of covering up a derailment at the North Avenue station on April 18.

Puwersa ng Bayaning Atleta party-list Rep. Jericho Nograles said reports reaching his office showed that the incident was not reported to the public in an apparent effort to hide the negligence and inefficiency of maintenance provider Busan Universal Rail Inc.

Nograles said at 8 p.m. on Tuesday, a train's gearbox broke and snapped, causing a derailment in MRT-3 operations. This, he said, was equivalent to a car's axle, which holds the wheels together, snapping.

Fortunately, commuters were spared from harm because the incident took place after the train had let passengers off at the North Avenue station, the lawmaker said.

But the results would have been disastrous had the train been filled with passengers, traveling at its cruising speed.

MRT-3 management merely reported a system glitch, but it took them at least four hours to put the wheels back on track, Nograles said.

The derailing at the North Avenue station was not the only problem reported after operations resumed following an annual four-day maintenance check over the Holy Week.

On April 17, a southbound train stopped at the Magallanes station at 8:48 p.m. after it began emitting smoke, forcing passengers to get off. The problem led to a suspension of the MRT's operation from Shaw Boulevard to Taft, and operations resumed more than an hour later.

Also on April 18, another train had to let off passengers at the northbound section of the Magallanes station at 6:38 a.m. because the doors malfunctioned.

The breakdowns came weeks after the Department of Transportation said "improved train operations and maintenance" had resulted in an increase in the number of riders during the first eight months of the Duterte administration.

The department said an average of 463,202 riders took the MRT-3 daily from July 2016 to March 2017, compared to 379,223 passengers over the same period the previous year.

What the department did not say was that public perception of the dangers of rail travel has not improved since a train overshot the tracks at the Taft Avenue station on Edsa and Taft Avenue in Pasay City more than two years ago, injuring 38 passengers.

The department also did not report that breakdowns have become so common on the commuter line that they are no longer news to a long-suffering public.

Clearly, several things need to be done.

First, the maintenance contract with Busan, a service contractor that is clearly unqualified and out of its depth, needs to be reviewed—and if need be, cancelled. Congress as well as the relevant executive branch agencies must launch full-blown investigations into what seems, even on the surface, an odious service contract.

Second, past and present Transport officials and MRT managers who are responsible for the mess must be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.

Third, this administration must resist the temptation to fall into the same trap that its predecessor wallowed in—telling lies and making outrageous claims—then believing them, even when the entire commuter train system was collapsing around us, making travel on the MRT unsafe at any speed.