Jarius Bondoc | Philstar Global | September 29, 2017

Why does a Liberal Party fundraiser tied to the MRT-3's disrepair control it to this day? Congress will investigate that, unless blunted by Marlo dela Cruz who has held the commuter rail's dealings since 2012.

Dela Cruz was the "mystery man" behind two successive MRT-3 maintenance contractors, PH Trams then Global Epcom in 2012-2015. Those companies got P1.8 billion in 33 months for sloppy work that led to MRT-3’s rapid deterioration.

Dela Cruz still corners MRT-3 spare parts and equipment supplies, this time through Diamond Pearl Development & Marketing Corp. The family store handles purchases for the present maintenance that has cost taxpayers P650 million to date.

Sectoral Rep. Jericho Nograles wants dela Cruz invited to the House review of MRT-3 dealings on Oct. 4. The committee on good government, under Rep. Johnny Pimentel (Surigao del Sur), will look into the present upkeep contract of Busan Universal Rail Inc. (BURI). To be dug up is de la Cruz’s role in the P3.8-billion three-year deal that started in Jan. 2016.

Diamond Pearl caught officials' attention in relation to two vehicle logic units (VLUs) that BURI installed on MRT-3 coaches. VLUs are signaling components that electronically keep safe distances between trains, automatically brake them to avert collision, and open the doors in emergencies.

BURI has been asking the Dept. of Transportation to reimburse the P4-million cost of the VLUs. Usec. for Rails Cesar Chavez refuses until BURI submits the requisite certificates of origin, genuineness, factory inspection, delivery, acceptance, actual installation, and supplier’s official receipt. An audit by Canada's Bombardier Ltd., supplier of MRT-3's signaling, showed that BURI has not purchased original equipment of late. Unauthorized parts are being used or modified, Chavez was told.

Diamond Pearl supposedly was the VLUs' source. On Chavez's inquiry, Bombardier said Diamond Pearl is not an authorized distributor.

Nograles checked out Diamond Pearl's given address in Parañaque City. Finding no shop there, he turned to Diamond Pearl's incorporation papers. Five Filipino stockholders are on record: Marlo dela Cruz, his father, two brothers, and another kinsman. Among the info:

• Marlo P. dela Cruz; 12 Milan St., Merville Subd., Parañaque; P750,000 subscribed; 15 percent ownership; P450,000 paid up;

• Wilfredo S. dela Cruz; 12 Florence St., Merville, Parañaque; P2,000,000 subscribed; 40 percent; P1,200,000 paid up;

• Wilfredo P. dela Cruz Jr.; 12 Florence St., Merville, Parañaque; P750,000 subscribed; 15 percent; P450,000 paid up;

• Jonathan P. dela Cruz; same entries as above;

• William C. Froio; Km 16 West Service Rd., South Superhighway, Parañaque; P750,000 subscribed; 15 percent; P450,000 paid up.

Total paid up capital: P3,000,000, out of P5,000,000 subscribed. Nograles found no proof of Diamond Pearl's expertise in rail supply.

Citing records, Chavez said most of MRT-3's twice to thrice daily breakdowns this year were due to signaling and train failures. Last week passengers were injured when trains suddenly braked between stations, indicating signaling malfunction.

Nograles asserts that, based on Bombardier's report, the VLUs are bogus, and so imperil passengers' lives and limbs.

Dela Cruz hit the headlines when linked by the Czech ambassador to a $30-million extortion attempt on Czech train maker Inekon Corp. in July 2012. LP president Mar Roxas was transport secretary at the time.

Three months later PH Trams, chaired by dela Cruz, suddenly eased out long-time MRT-3 maintenance servicer Sumitomo of Japan. LP secretary general Joseph Abaya was then two days into taking over Roxas' post.

PH Trams was only two months old and undercapitalized at P625,000, yet bagged a deal of P54.5 million a month – no public bidding.

It was revealed that dela Cruz's family had campaigned and raised funds in Pangasinan for Roxas' 2010 vice presidential run. PH Trams fellow-incorporators Wilson de Vera, Manolo Maralit, and Federico Remo allegedly were LP supporters. De Vera had run but lost as LP mayor of Calasiao, Pangasinan. A fifth incorporator Arturo Soriano turned out to be the uncle-in-law of then-MRT-3 general manager Al Vitangcol. For that alleged graft Vitangcol, dela Cruz, et al are being tried at the Sandiganbayan.

Exposed, PH Trams hastily was replaced by Global Epcom, reportedly owned by then-Philippine National Railways chief Allan Dilay. Global Epcom's authorized representative to the department still was dela Cruz.

In Oct. 2015 the department secretly negotiated a three-year maintenance deal with the joint venture of Korea's Busan Transport Co. and Filipino outfits Edison Construction Development Corp., Tramat Mercantile Inc., TMI Corp., and Castan Corp. The four Filipinos had no experience in railways. Their papers and websites stated that Edison was into real estate, Tramat into general merchandising, TMI into agricultural supply, and Castan into plumbing.

Talk was rife even then that dela Cruz was behind the four Filipinos, while Busan was backed by one Eugene Rapanut. The latter, Vitangcol swore, was an LP in Ilocos Sur who brokered the separate P3.8-billion purchase of 48 coaches from China’s Dalian Corp.

BURI later came into being as billing and collection conduit, with Rapanut as managing director.

Dela Cruz's brother Wilfredo Jr. was said to have been BURI general manager for a while. He supposedly continues to rule BURI’s sparing purchases of parts, equipment, and consummables. In a recent hearing Sen. Grace Poe showed a collection letter from an MRT-3 air-conditioning supplier addressed to Wilfredo Jr.