Ellson A. Quismorio | Manila Bulletin | October 5, 2017

Are the lives of the 500,000 or so daily riders of the Metro Rail Transit 3 (MRT3) in danger?

This seems to be the big question after it learned during a House Committee on Good Government and Public Accountability inquiry Wednesday that a key component of the MRT3's automatic command and signaling system, the Vehicle Logic Units (VLU), has been "tampered" with.

The VLUs, worth P2 million each, were reportedly sourced by controversial MRT3 maintenance provider Busan Universal Rail Inc. (BURI) from Diamond Pearl Development Corporation. Diamond Pearl is owned by a certain Marlo dela Cruz, who is being threatened with detention should he continue ignoring summons of the House panel chaired by Surigao del Sur 2nd District Rep. Johnny Pimentel.

The inquiry was initiated by Puwersa ng Bayaning Atleta (PBA) Party-List Rep. Jericho Nograles, who filed House Resolution (HR) No.1212.

The measure sought an investigation on why BURI has been using fake parts for the 18-year-old train system instead of the original proprietary parts supplied by Bombardier Transportation Signal Ltd..

It should be noted that Bombardier is the sole manufacturer of the MRT3's signaling system.

During the hearing, lawyer Hernando Cabrera, a consultant under the Department of Transportation's (DOTr) Office of the Undersecretary for Railways, shared disturbing details of a Bombardier audit report regarding the MRT3.

In his presentation before the panel, Cabrera showed the audit report dated June 7, 2017 which said that the VLUs installed on at least two MRT cars or coaches (Nos. 06 and 63) have been tampered with.

Something's wrong

In particular, the audit report read, "VLU on Bombardier on board [has] been opened and circuitry modified."

"Yung VLU po na naka-install po, nakalagay dyan (the installed VLUs), have been tampered and circuitry modified. So pinakialaman napo yung VLU natin. So eto po yung pagpapatunay na there's something wrong with our VLUs (Our VLUs have been disturbed. This is the proof that there's something wrong with our VLUs," Cabrera told the congressmen.

He explained just how crucial this part is to the operation of the MRT3.

"The VLU is part of the automatic command and control system of our trains. This system is standard to all modern railways. This is the heart and soul of the safety operations of our trains," Cabrera said.

Cabrera said the automatic command system, which is used by the MRT3's signaling system, ensures that trains are always at a safe distance between each other. It also prevents over-speeding.

But he stressed that this system is heavily dependent on the reliability and efficiency of the VLU.

Worse, the chief engineer of MRT3, Oscar Bongon, bared that these parts are still operating inside the cars.

"To the best of my knowledge, naka-install pa po iyon dahil wala kaming na-receive na report na na-pull out yun (these are still installed because we haven't received a report saying they've been pulled out)," Bongon said.

An MRT train usually consists of three cars.

Nograles reckoned that the matter needed future probe and action.

"If these VLUs are not based on the specifications of Bombardier and the DOTr and MRT3 know about it, then why on earth are they still installed on the coaches? There's a chance that they might bog down one day, resulting to a huge disaster," Nograles said.