By Jarius Bondoc (GOTCHA) | The Philippine Star | September 29, 2014

Ex-President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s neck ailment hampers her eating. To swallow she must tilt or turn the head. Or else she’d choke, like the other weekend, on a broccoli stem, the second time in as many months. Doctors at her Veterans Hospital jail thought to rush her to surgery to extract the obstruction. While they were debating she was able to cough it out.

Days earlier the court had allowed spouse Mike Arroyo to travel anew to Germany.

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Liberal Party mates in the Cabinet often get President Noynoy Aquino into trouble. The latest is Energy Sec. Jericho Petilla. He’s why Congress won’t give P-Noy “emergency power” to contract extra electricity to avert a shortage next year. It’s a credibility issue.

Only last May Petilla was refuting Sen. Serge Osmeña’s forecast of Luzon blackouts in 2015. Said Petilla then, the head of the Congressional Oversight Committee believed power generators too much. Yet one month later he was warning of a 600-megawatt shortfall.

Even that figure lawmakers find bloated. Any supply thinning would be more like 350MW. Upgrading certain generating plants, and making factories use self-generators for a while could remedy it, till three new plants start operating. They can’t trust the word of the man who caused the Luzon-Visayas shortage last Dec. and the yearlong rotating blackouts in Mindanao.

Then too, as Press Sec. Sonny Coloma notes, there’s no provision for “emergency power” in the Electric Power Industry Reform Act. Yet it’s Petilla who keeps using the term.

Worst, emergency contracting would triple electricity rates to P25 per kilowatt-hour. The present rate is already the world’s highest. Expect manufactories to shut down, and consumers to rise up.

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“Emergency” was what MRT-3 invoked to give a P517.5-million maintenance contract to unqualified PH Trams in Oct. 2012. Transport Sec. Joseph Emilio Abaya says the old maintenance servicer Sumitomo was to expire only days after he took office that month. So they were forced into “emergency purchase” via “simplified bidding” with three companies. If not, they perilously would’ve had no railway maintainer.

Abaya’s claim contains four half-truths, ergo full lies:

One, there was no “emergency.” Sumitomo’s original ten-year deal had expired July 2010. DOTC/MRT-3 thrice extended it by six months and once by nine, for a total of 27. So even if it was to expire by Oct. 19, 2012, they could’ve prolonged it again, say by three months, enough time to hold a public bidding. Surely Abaya knew about the four extensions of Sumitomo. It was a foreword in the PH Trams deal that he signed, with U-Sec. Jose Perpetuo Lotilla and then-MRT-3 head Al S. Vitangcol.

Two, “simplified bidding” deceptively connotes open auction. In truth it was separate, closed-door negotiation, prone to rigging – which was what happened.

Three, there was only one “bidder,” PH Trams in joint venture with CB&T. The Terms of Reference (TOR) was Sumitomo’s old 2000 contract, plus the DOTC/MRT-3 amendments through 2012. Sumitomo was asked to make an offer. Naturally it quoted $1.4 million a month, its latest fee, since the DOTC/MRT-3 had required new services on top of its $1.15 million in 2000. Invited too was MiescoRail, a subsidiary of publicly listed Meralco. The firm didn’t submit an offer because it was not given the complete TOR, and was informed only a week before the negotiation. In fact it protested in writing when Vitangcol kept announcing it as a bidder. Third invitee was PH Trams, which “bid” exactly what the DOTC/MRT-3 wanted, $1.15 million (P51.75 million) a month.

Four, despite the “emergency” hiring PH Trams on Oct. 20, 2012, Abaya et al actually still had no maintenance for MRT-3. Perilously for 560,000 daily passengers, they let the railway deteriorate. For, PH Trams as spare-parts handler (CB&T was for manpower) couldn’t deliver. How could it, when the basic parts were to come from Czech firm Inekon, supplier of MRT-3 coaches in 2000? Inekon was upset with PH Trams, since three of five incorporator-directors – Marlo dela Cruz, Wilson de Vera, Manolo Maralit – were linked to Vitangcol’s alleged $30-million extortion attempt in July 2012.

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Echoing Lotilla, Abaya claims that the law required them to look at the credentials of the PH Trams-CB&T joint venture, not the individual firms. Yet he contradicts himself in adding that CB&T by itself has track record, as longtime maintenance contractor of LRT-1.

Abaya should explain: if CB&T was so qualified, then why did it need to partner with two-month-old, undercapitalized PH Trams to get into MRT-3?

Abaya uses the Procurement Law as alibi. That’s to play blind to the presence in PH Trams of incorporator-directors Arturo Soriano and Federico Remo. Being Pangasinan provincial accountant and EVP of state firm PhilExim, respectively, the two are in conflict of interest in contracting with the government. Soriano is even uncle-in-law of contract signatory Vitangcol.

Abaya, LP president, plays blind too to the presence of PH Trams chairman Marlo dela Cruz and Wilson de Vera. Dela Cruz, of Manaoag, Pangasinan, is the LP point man in the province. U.S. immigrant de Vera ran but lost for LP mayor of Calasiao town in 2013.

Dela Cruz is Abaya’s compadre. Could that be the secret of his staying power as MRT-3 maintenance contractor? In Apr. 2013 PH Trams became too hot with the exposé of the previous year’s $30-million illegal exaction. Hastily DOTC/MRT-3 contracted the joint venture of Global-APT. Starting Sept. 2013 it collects $1.4 million (P63 million) a month.

In DOTC/MRT-3 records, dela Cruz is “authorized representative” of Global and the joint venture. APT, veteran maintainer of LRT-2, provides manpower; Global must pitch in the spare parts but, like PH Trams before it, can’t deliver. That’s the reason for frequent MRT-3 train accidents and breakdowns.

The Ombudsman would do well to investigate not only Abaya’s contract with PH Trams but Global as well. Abaya and Lotilla signed the latter, with LRT administrator Honorito Chaneco.

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