By Delon Porcalla, Christina Mendez | The Philippine Star | August 18, 2014

MANILA, Philippines - Malacañang rejected yesterday calls for the replacement of Transportation Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya despite a series of accidents and breakdowns involving the Metro Rail Transit Line 3 (MRT-3).

“I would say that President Aquino maintains his trust and confidence in the capability

of Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya of the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC),” Press Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said.

Coloma said the utmost concern of the government is the safety of all passengers using the MRT-3 and the Light Rail Transit in Metro Manila, where half a million people ride every day.

He said the DOTC will come out tomorrow with results of the investigation on the MRT-3 accident last Wednesday.

Sen. Francis Escudero reiterated yesterday the need to review the management issues involving the MRT-3.

Escudero noted that MRT-3 is owned by MRT Holdings, which has two other subsidiaries handling the rail line’s security and advertising.

Escudero noted that the government has bid out the management contract through the DOTC.

The government committed 15 percent returns on the investment but 80 percent of the economic interest of the MRT Holdings are now under the Land Bank of the Philippines and the Development Bank of the Philippines (DBP).

In an interview over radio dzBB, Escudero criticized Abaya for the DOTC’s failure to address the maintenance issues prior to the train accident.

“I am surprised by Secretary Abaya’s statement that he is taking full responsibility (over the MRT-3 train mishap). So what? We should talk about the safety of the passengers of the MRT-3,” the senator said.

Escudero noted that MRT is a public utility and it is the responsibility of the state to ensure the safety of the commuting public.

“I think his performance should be reviewed because the DOTC’s performance is dismal under the current administration,” Escudero said, noting that P15-billion projects under the DOTC were not implemented in 2013.

The amount was eventually taken out by the Department of Budget and Management (DBM), and lumped along with the controversial Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP).

Escudero expressed concern that there have been legal obstacles involved in management issues of the MRT-3.

He added the delay in the procurement of three to four new train coaches was due to conflicts within the organization.

Escudero said the government should buy the MRT anew then privatize it again to allow government to take full control of operations.

He slammed MRT Holdings and the DOTC for alleged failure to settle their differences over management issues, which may have led to train maintenance problems.

“The DOTC has the lowest absorptive capacity in all of the government agencies,” Escudero lamented.