By Babe G. Romualdez (SPYBITS) | The Philippine Star | June 10, 2014

With the population in Metro Manila now estimated at 13 million, the congestion can only get worse especially with the opening of classes and the influx of students from the provinces and the working people who rely mostly on jeeps and buses to bring them to work. The stifling heat, the pollution and the grindingly slow pace of traffic all add to the

agonizing conditions that commuters have to go through every single day – something that could be avoided if we have an efficient and reliable public transport system.

Some 650,000 people ride the MRT every day, but let’s face it the MRT is no longer responsive to the needs of passengers who more often than not find their time wasted waiting in line to buy a ticket, then another lengthy line to get through the turnstiles on to the platform area to squeeze themselves into the jampacked trains. The rush to get home can also turn into a battle experience with men and women shoving and pushing, and we’re told it’s even worse in the section reserved for females, children and senior citizens because the women are more fierce than lionesses, engaging in hair pulling and clawing matches as they jostle their way in. Of course, pickpockets and other petty thieves have a heyday victimizing people who don’t notice the prying fingers in the midst of the overcrowding.

Definitely, the frequent breakdowns of the MRT trains are not helping any, and it seems even mother nature is expressing her displeasure at the decrepit state of the EDSA train system when lightning struck – twice mind you – an MRT cable that caused the trains to stall and forced the MRT management to limit the run of the trains, resulting in thousands of stranded passengers who found themselves drenched in a sudden downpour. Imagine – you’re standing in line under the sweltering heat of summer and suddenly the rains pour – a surefire formula for illness.

People are angry because the MRT management and the current maintenance contractor seem to be passing the buck, blaming previous maintenance contractor Sumitomo-TESP for the frequent breakdowns and other technical glitches. But according to a DOTC insider, the situation took a turn for the worse when officials of the Transportation department took over the maintenance of the MRT system in October 2012. As early as three years ago, MRTC reminded DOTC of the need to bid out the maintenance work since Sumitomo’s contract was ending, but these people procrastinated then went ahead and awarded the contract without public bidding and without submitting the terms of reference to the review and approval of the MRTC.

No technical audit was conducted, the insider disclosed, adding that two MRTC directors even wrote a letter to the president raising concerns about “the possible consequences to the riding public due to inadequate or deficient maintenance procedures.”  Those in the know say an independent audit of the MRT system is urgent especially in light of the warning issued by rail expert Rolf Jhann Bierithat that the 15-year-old trains are in dire need of new motors and that the frequent breakdowns are indicative of “metal fatigue” – meaning that without a system upgrade, the DOTC-approved capacity expansion project might not actually solve the recurring breakdowns and glitches since this metal fatigue problem will make it difficult to handle 48 new trains.

Ongpin: Back in business

Business magnate Roberto “Bobby” Ongpin or RVO has broken his uncharacteristic silence to tell shareholders that the row between Alphaland Corp. (AC) and the UK-based Ashmore Group has reached a final settlement – leaving Alphaland now fully in control. In a disclosure to the Philippine Stock Exchange, Alphaland transferred several assets to a newly incorporated company owned by Alphaland Holdings (Singapore) Pte. Ltd. (AH) and Masrickstar Corp. (MC).

These include 100 percent of Alphaland Makati Tower Inc., which owns the Alphaland Tower along Ayala Ave. in Makati; 100 percent of each of Alpahaland Marina Club Inc. and Alphaland Marina Corp., which is currently developing a marina project at the Manila Bay reclamation area in Parañaque City; 50-percent ownership of the Alphaland group in Alphaland Bay City Corp., the joint venture with the Wenceslao group to develop the 32-hectare Alphaland Bay City project at the Aseana Business Park in Parañaque; and 60-percent interest owned by AC in the Boracay Gateway project, the unincorporated joint venture between AC and Akean Resorts Corp. to develop the latter’s 500 hectares of land in Caticlan and Nabas in Aklan. In return, AH and MC will transfer all their shareholdings in Alphaland Corp. back to AC and will also pay the latter P2.5 billion in cash in two tranches.

In his letter to the members of the exclusive Balesin Club – which is now fully under the control of AC – Bobby said the settlement wouldn’t have been possible without the help of his nephew Eric Recto who “played an instrumental role” in getting the settlement done.

Is Purisima crossing over?

Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima and his wife Corrie had their firstborn Gabriel Cesar baptized last Saturday, with a big reception held at the North Forbes Community Center. We were informed that the guest list included Cabinet officials and a number of politicians from both the opposition and the administration, but many found it noticeably intriguing to see DILG Secretary Mar Roxas leaving after a short period of time and before the arrival of the President.

The conspicuous exit fueled the rumors circulating around that Cesar has already been contracted by the camp of Vice President Jejomar Binay to take charge of the fundraising for the VP’s presidential run in 2016.