Jarius Bondoc | Philstar Global | October 8, 2017

Fake safety parts are still installed on MRT-3 coaches four months after discovery. Lives and limbs are imperiled as brakes can fail and trains collide. The transport chief has yet to act on recommendations to fire the sloppy maintenance contractor.

A congressional inquiry last week bared that bogus vehicle logic units (VLUs) still are being used in coaches Nos. 03 and 63. MRT-3 chief engineer Oscar Bongon testified that he has received no word of removal by the private contractor Busan Universal Rail Inc. (BURI). The two coaches are operated daily.

The VLUs are components of the critical signaling system. Atty. Hernando Cabrera, Dept. of Transport consultant for rails, explained that VLUs electronically keep safe distances between trains, control their speeds, and automatically brake them to avert collision.

An audit last June by Bombardier Ltd. of Canada, MRT-3's signaling designer-supplier, stated that BURI has not been acquiring authorized parts for periodic maintenance. It noted that the VLUs installed by BURI in Coaches 03 and 63 were modified without permission and the circuitry tampered with.

"If these VLUs are not based on the specifications of Bombardier, and the DOTr and MRT-3 know about it, then why on earth are they still installed on the coaches?" Rep. Jericho Nograles warned. "There's a chance that they might bog down, resulting to a huge disaster."

Nograles, who initiated the Congress inquiry, said that BURI may be using other fake signaling and train parts and equipment. That is why it cannot present to DOTr the required certificates of origin, genuineness, serial number, factory inspection, delivery, installation, and official receipts. Earlier this year Nograles exposed BURI's lack of the requisite multimillion-peso truing machine, to restore metal train wheels to circular shape for safe, smooth rides. In breach of its P3.8-billion contract, BURI had the wheels filed by a fly-by-night lathe man in Bulacan who has since closed shop.

U-Sec. for Rail Cesar Chavez has recommended to Sec. Arthur Tugade the sacking of BURI. Last month he reported that the MRT-3's twice to thrice daily breakdowns in Jan.-July 2017 were due mostly to signaling and mechanical failures. These have led to 38 railway shutdowns, 246 incidents of passenger unloading, 1,116 train removals, and five derailments. The other week passengers were thrown to the floor and injured when, in signaling failure, a train suddenly braked between stations.

U-Sec. for Legal Reinier Yebra also has recommended BURI's termination for a contract void from the start. BURI is undercapitalized at less than one-eighth of the price, in breach of government contracting laws. The project was awarded two weeks before BURI’s incorporation; hence it was inexistent then. There was no public bidding for the three-year deal. It was signed by a mere undersecretary instead of the department head as required by the Administrative Code. "Not only the parts but also the contract is fake," remarked Rep. Aurelio Gonzales (Pampanga) during the Congress hearing.

Rep. Johnny Pimentel, chairman of the committee on good government, warned BURI's parts supplier Marlo dela Cruz of arrest for failure to attend the hearing. He had summoned dela Cruz to explain where the two bogus VLUs came from if not Bombardier.

During the hearing BURI at first denied seeking P4-million reimbursement for the VLUs provided by Dela Cruz's Diamond Pearl Marketing Development Corp. DOTr and MRT-3 personnel showed BURI's billings, however.

Dela Cruz was the authorized representative to the DOTr of two successive MRT-3 maintenance firms, PH Trams and Global Epcom, that got P1.8 billion in 2012-2015. The railway rapidly deteriorated under the two firms' shoddy work and non-replacement of crucial parts. In Aug. 2014 a train overshot the guide rails and crashed onto a lamppost at the end station in Pasay City, injuring dozens of passengers.

Even back then the MRT-3 signaling already was problematic due to dilapidation. Yet industry sources aver that dela Cruz is a partner in other businesses of Bombardier’s local agent, an American named Chuck Goldman.