By Mary Ann Ll. Reyes (HIDDEN AGENDA) | The Philippine Star | June 8, 2014

Lightning does hit twice and the Metro Rail Transit Line 3 (MRT-3) can attest to that.

Last Tuesday, lightning struck a Kamuning area cable that powers the train system, forcing management to idle half of the line from the North Avenue to the Shaw Boulevard station for almost two hours.

The following day, another lightning bolt struck MRT3 also in Quezon City, prompting management to again suspend the MRT run from the North Avenue to Shaw Boulevard station that rainy afternoon.

That’s twice in a row.

Then there is of course the award by the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) to PH Trams and then to APT Global as interim maintenance providers of MRT-3, two private companies believed to have connections to sacked MRT general manager Al Vitangcol and the powers-that-be.

MRT-3 has already become associated with disaster (last March 26’s foul-up of an emergency brake system injured 10 passengers at the Guadalupe station) ever since the DOTC dumped in 2012 its decade-old operation and maintenance (M&O) contractor TES-P/Sumitomo in favor of an undercapitalized firm controlled by alleged Liberal Party (LP) campaigner Marlo dela Cruz and Vitangcol’s uncle-in-law Arturo Soriano.

Another incorporator-director of PH Trams who has now become infamous is Wilson de De Vera, a defeated LP mayoralty bet, who – according to Czech Ambassador Josef Rychtar – was Vitangcol’s “emissary” who had tried to extort $30 million from Inekon chief executive officer Josef Husek in exchange for this train manufacturer’s supply of 48 MRT3 light rail vehicles (LRVs).

After the PH Trams-CB&T contract ended, the DOTC then awarded to Autre Porte Technique Global Inc. (APT Global) a one-year P685-million maintenance contract which is due to expire this August.

Shouldn’t the DOTC be blaming its anointed interim maintenance provider for all the mishaps happening to MRT-3  instead of pointing fingers at private concessionaire MRT Corp. (MRTC), for all the troubles hounding MRT3 riders?

The award to PH Trams and then to APT Global is believed to be not only irregular and anomalous, but also void from the beginning, something which DOTC Secretary Abaya and MRT-3 OIC Honortio Chaneco should look into lest they be accused of being part of the ploy.

If indeed APT Global is under the control of PH Trams, which in turn is linked to Vitangcol, then that would be  in violation of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act.

And then of course there is the alleged violation by DOTC of the build-lease-transfer (BLT) contract between government and MRTC which requires prior consent by MRTC as the private operator of the train system for any MRT-3 related contract to be entered into by government with any other private party.

And before we forget, the Czech Ambassador’s accusations against Vitangcol and De Vera.

Before they even think of extending APT Global’s M&O contract when it expires this August, Abaya and Chaneco must first explain speculations that the same Soriano-Dela Cruz-De Vera troika was the true beneficiary of APT Global’s contract on the basis of Dela Cruz’s connection to both consortiums.

It will be recalled that DOTC was the one that unwittingly revealed to the public in September last year that Dela Cruz was also the one who had forged APT Global’s M&O contract with DOTC.

The best action that government could take is for Abaya and Chaneco to cancel the M&O contract at once and let MRTC do its job of choosing the maintenance provider for MRT3.

Rather than face the Vitangcol/PH Trams issue squarely, Abaya tried last month to lie his way out of the P517-million pickle by saying that MRT3 management was forced to enter into an emergency transaction in 2012 because MRTC at the last minute dropped the bomb that it was leaving to government the task of hiring a new maintenance contractor after the lapse of the then-existing one with TES-P/Sumitomo.

But it is now being alleged that DOTC had contrived a situation involving the dumping of TES-P/Sumitomo and the staging of emergency negotiations that led to Vitangcol’s P517- million deal with the two-month-old company of his wife’s uncle.

It is being claimed that as early as three years ago, MRTC raised with DOTC the need to bid out the maintenance of the MRT3 System to a qualified maintenance provider after the term of TES-P/Sumitomo ends, as required under the relevant agreements.

But instead of acting on the firm’s reminder, they said DOTC procrastinated and waited till only a few days were left in TES-P/Sumitomo’s contract before directing MRTC to conduct a public bidding for a new maintenance provider and to exclude TES-P/Sumitomo from it.

It is said that with only a few days left before the expiration of the maintenance contract with TES-P/Sumitomo, DOTC required MRTC to conduct a public bidding to select a new maintenance provider for the MRT3 System and said that TES-P/Sumitomo must be taken out.

Given the “very limited time” to conduct the necessary due diligence on the qualifications of prospective bidders and the required newspaper publication of proper notices to interested parties, MRTC said it had no recourse in 2012 but to allow DOTC to select an interim maintenance provider—but on condition that the TOR be first submitted to and approved by MRTC. in keeping with the terms of their BLT agreement.

However, they said, DOTC reneged on their BLT pact and, without first submitting the TOR for MRTC’s review and prior approval, named the joint venture PH Trams-CB&T as the interim maintenance provider through a mere negotiated arrangement instead of the required public bidding.

What makes this DOTC action worse, they said, was that a certification by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) proves that PH Trams was not even a duly registered entity with the SEC, let alone qualified to maintain an important public utility system like the MRT3, which was valued at $750 million or roughly P30 billion.

Violating the BLT anew, MRTC directors told President Aquino that  following the end of PH Trams-CB&T contract, the DOTC awarded a one-year P685 million-maintenance contract for MRT3 to Autre Porte Technique Global Inc. (APT Global) on August 22, 2013, without again first submitting the TOR to MRTC for its prior consideration and approval.

MRTC had repeatedly requested DOTC for an independent third-party technical audit for the MRT3 to ensure the safety of the riding public and ascertain that the entire system was being properly maintained and run on the basis of their BLT agreement’s operational specifications.

However, DOTC has ignored the demand of MRTC for the technical audit.

An  independent audit of the MRT3 system is rather urgent, given the recent warning by rail consultant Rolf Jhann Bierithat that the 15-year-old trains are in dire need of new motors and that the successive breakdowns were symptomatic of “metal fatigue.”

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