Conrado Banal | INQUIRER.net | September 29, 2017
In July last year, Transport Secretary Arthur Tugade promised to fix the Metro Rail Transit Line 3 (MRT-3) along Edsa in the first 100 days of the motorbiking Duterte Harley administration. I almost cried when he vowed to give the public a pleasant ride.
Today, this vital mass transit system in Metro Manila remains a mess. In fact, it was forced to unload passengers some 25 times so far this month due to… well, what else, "technical problems."
Surprise! Tugade recently confessed he was inclined to hand over MRT-3 to Metro Pacific Investment Corp. (MPIC), a local subsidiary of First Pacific of the Salim group of Indonesia.
According to reports quoting Tugade, MPIC was poised to secure the much coveted "original project proponent" status for MRT-3.
Tugade tried to tone down the shocking news, qualifying that the MPIC proposal would still need approval from the board of the National Economic and Development Authority.
As soon as Duterte Harley came into power more than a year ago, another group called MRTC submitted a similar offer to Tugade. MRTC is Metro Rail Transit Corp., the legal owner of Line 3 under a build-lease-transfer contract with the government.
It seemed MRTC even wrote Tugade FOUR times to inquire about its offer. Still, he sat on the proposal in the past 450 days or so.
All of a sudden, from out of nowhere, for whatever ungodly reason, the blessed MPIC would become the "original" in something that already existed for almost 20 years.
The Department of Transportation (DOTr) must be in need of court cases.
Unfortunately, court cases only put projects in perpetual delay.
By the way, MRTC filed against the clueless Aquino (Part II) administration a couple of arbitration cases in Singapore for alleged violation of contract.
Note that the former administration already recognized the need to acquire ownership of the MRT from MRTC, as provided in Executive Order 126, issued by our ex-leader Benigno Simeon, aka BS, way back in 2013. The government even allotted some P54 billion in the 2014 budget for the purchase.
Nothing happened in the purchase plan, owing perhaps to rumors that the BS administration only wanted to hand over the MRT to another influential group.
And so the service still declined despite the P7 billion a year subsidy from the government. Nobody bothered to use the money to buy spare parts.
Under Tugade, DOTr as early as July last year received an offer from MRTC covering "fast-track" solutions. Immediately, Japanese group Sumitomo, for instance, put in some $50 million to buy parts and deploy at least a hundred engineers.
Sumitomo, by the way, was the "original" maintenance contractor, at that time getting only $1.4 million a month, of which some $900,000 went to spare parts. The previous administration replaced Sumitomo with various companies that reportedly had the same owner but who went on to spend a total of zero for parts.
Anyway, to the guys down here in my barangay, the big issue in any contract would still be its cost to the riding public. Yes, the fare increase!
Meanwhile, the debate still rages on about the cause of its decay, with one side arguing about the flaws in the "original" contract awarded by Kuya Eddie, aka former President Fidel Ramos, to MRTC.
While the argument could be valid, the government would have to go to court to nullify it, which would take time—like, well, forever.
Adding to the mess would be the claim of House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez about the heavy influence of business groups over at the DOTr. Alvarez even threatened to cut the DOTr budget.
Several administrations already promised to bring MRT-3 in tip-top condition. Of course it continued to break down, lately even causing injuries to passengers.
In an earthshaking move, meanwhile, Tugade signed an agreement with a telco to provide free WiFi at the MRT.