Jarius Bondoc | Philstar Global | October 20, 2017

MRT-3 engineers are said to be gearing up to assume maintenance of the rotting commuter railway. This, as the mother Dept. of Transport came closer Tuesday to firing the sloppy Korean contractor Busan and four Filipino partners.

The MRT-3 depot is bustling with preparations for a transfer of daily upkeep and repairs from outsiders to in-house. There should be no disruption of operations, so the transfer should be smooth, Sec. Arthur Tugade told The STAR.

Busan et al were given five days to explain its unfulfilled contract obligations that have caused thrice daily breakdowns of trains. Failure to do so would mean contract termination. Busan would be made to depart in another 10 days, Tugade said.

The five-day deadline for Busan to explain and 10-day decision period for the DOTr are part of the legal process of contract termination. "The process is in place, parties have been informed, programs will be calibrated," Tugade said.

Last week the Quezon City regional trial court declined Busan's petition for an "interim measure of protection," or temporary restraining order on its termination from the MRT-3. The judge enjoined the contenders to work things out themselves, based on the contract.

Tugade would not say who will be taking over the maintenance, apart from assuring to "protect the interest of the riding public."

Earlier his Railways Usec. Cesar Chavez planned a "maintenance transition team" in case Tugade fires Busan once and for all. Chavez envisioned the transition to last only three months, by which time a new contractor shall be picked by open public bidding.

The team would consist of engineers of MRT-3 and sister Light Rail Transit Authority, which Chavez managed in the 2000s. He would also retain Busan's technicians, who were with Sumitomo when that Japanese giant handled MRT-3 in 2000-2012.

A succession of unknown outfits close to the then-ruling Liberal Party grabbed the maintenance deal but kept Sumitomo's technicians. Those interrelated firms PH Trams, Global Epcom, and then Busan et al allegedly stinted on spare parts, so MRT-3 rapidly deteriorated. Every Christmastime families of the technicians would decry delayed salaries.

Chavez twice has recommended to Tugade Busan's firing for frequent breakdowns, contrary to its obligation for safe, comfortable, reliable rides. MRT-3 general manager Rodolfo Garcia has confirmed the shoddy maintenance.

Usec. for Legal Reinier Yebra also deems Busan's contract void from the start. Past transport officials secretly had negotiated the juicy P3.8-billion deal with Korea's Busan Transport Co. and inexperienced Filipino partners. It then granted the contract to undercapitalized newbie Busan Universal Rail Inc. The latter in turn merely subcontracted Busan of Korea.

The smooth turnover of maintenance is Garcia's responsibility; the legalities are Yebra's. Tugade said he wants all parties to cooperate and guard against sabotage during transition. In late Dec. 2015 Busan et al’s takeover was disrupted several days by turnover snafus, which they blamed on the outgoing temporary servicer.