The Philippine Star | May 24, 2017

The Senate committee on public services will summon former transportation secretary Mar Roxas to its next hearing into the controversy involving the Metro Rail Transit 3.

The committee, chaired by Sen. Grace Poe, conducted its second hearing yesterday with former officials of the defunct Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) and the MRT-3, and executives of the Department of Transportation (DOTr).

The frequent breakdowns and accidents occurring along the 24-kilometer commuter train system on Edsa have been attributed to alleged inefficiency and corruption at the DOTC and MRT-3 during the previous administration.

"I think this will be his chance to explain himself," Poe said, referring to Roxas.

The committee has yet to set the date of the next hearing.

At yesterday's hearing, former MRT-3 general manager Al Vitangcol testified that in May 2012, he sent Roxas a letter informing him that the maintenance contract with Sumitomo Corp. was about to expire and that the DOTC needed to immediately act on the matter.

Vitangcol, who is facing a graft case before the Sandiganbayan over the MRT-3 scandal, said the MRT Corp. – which owns the train system – also informed Roxas of the same and asked him to let the corporation look for a maintenance supplier to speed things up.

Apparently, Roxas sat on the matter and when his successor Joseph Emilio Abaya assumed the DOTC post in September 2012, the issue became urgent and the agency had to tap the services of PH Trams, APT Global and acheterdufrance.com Busan Universal Rail Inc. (BURI).

The three firms had contracts limited to six months to one year, which DOTr Undersecretary for rails Cesar Chavez said triggered suspicions that they did not intend to procure parts – with the collusion of DOTC officials.

The lack of available parts had been cited as among the causes for the train breakdowns.

Chavez said the procurement of parts had to be scheduled several months in advance and the firms would not do so as the renewal of their maintenance contracts was uncertain.

"I would like to know from former secretary Roxas why did he allow the Sumitomo contract to lapse," Poe said.

There have been allegations that the DOTC awarded the contracts to the three firms, as some of their backers or incorporators were financiers of Roxas' presidential campaign last year.

Vitangcol said there was an email correspondence between Eugene Rapanut, said to be a Liberal Party member and an official of BURI, and a certain Antonio de Mesa about a five percent commission for unnamed DOTC officials to broker the P3.8-billion acquisition of coaches from Dalian Co. of China.

During the hearing, Chavez said the DOTr is moving to cancel the P3.8-billion contract of BURI for poor performance.

Failing to attend yesterday's hearing was a certain Marlo de la Cruz, whose name kept appearing in the maintenance contracts that Poe described as "problematic."

"It seems the government entered into a series of short-term contracts with companies with little track record and dubious competence, hastily put together to bag the juicy monthly maintenance fees," Poe said.