By Alex Magno (FIRST PERSON) | The Philippine Star | October 11, 2014

The unthinkable has now become a likelihood. The MRT might actually shut down.

The DOTC admitted to that possibility. Some of those I have talked to suggest this was the recommendation of the auditing team from the Hong Kong railways.

A shutdown may be revolting, but it is understandable. After years of overuse and, in the last three or so years, incompetent maintenance, it comes to no surprise that this vital commuter rail system be declared dead.

Metal fatigue from years of gross overloading is causing the rails to crack. The signaling system is totally obsolete. The carriages leak during heavy rain. Continued operation of this decrepit system will be a hazard to life and limb.

If they yield to the necessity of rebuilding this whole system, the DOTC must now tell us: What do we do with the 550,000 commuters who depend on this rail system each day?

If riding the MRT today is an act of penitence, a shutdown will bring untold horrors. The EDSA bus system cannot absorb the passenger load. Traffic movement along this route, unbearable as it already is, will become a nightmare.

The social dislocation and the economic costs will be incalculable. Life in the entire metropolitan area will be disrupted.

It is easy to blame the mismanagement of the MRT on incompetence. That is just too obvious.

Less obvious is the possibility that MRT has been reduced to this disastrous state because of corruption. This is the root of the lousy maintenance contracts entered into by the DOTC and the brazen powerbrokers actually dictating on this agency.


On a related matter, the decision of the DOTC to relocate the “common station” linking LRT-1, MRT-3 and the forthcoming LRT-7 from SM North Edsa to Trinoma has never been backed up by a serious study. Many suspect this is due to sheer power-brokering.

Now we know more. The decision to relocate the “common station” to Trinoma actually overrules the recommendations of the in-house experts of the DOTC itself.

On March 18, 2014, Joel Magbanua (chief of the railway department of the DOTC) wrote a memo addressed to Usec. Rene Limcaoco. In that memo, the transport professional listed all the points against locating the “common station” at the Trinoma.

Magbanua busts the argument that locating at Trinoma will involve less costs. It will inflict such incalculable inconvenience on commuters that make the imagined savings the DOTC secretary claims.

Besides, according to the memo, relocating will violate existing contractual arrangements, including the one for LRT-7 which specifies the “common station” to be at SM — where it is accessible for the rail down from North Avenue. Commuters from LRT-7 transferring to either the LRT-1 or MRT will have to walk 350 meters. The violated contracts will invite long legal battles.

Building the common station at Trinoma will require shutting down MRT service for the duration of the construction. Eventually, it will require slowing down the MRT rail service (so that trains do not crash into each other), making the congestion permanent even if more trains are added.

Locating the “common station” at Trinoma will be a repeat of the Cubao experience. The original plan was to locate the MRT station right at the corner of Aurora Avenue and Edsa (a vacant lot to this day). That would have provided a seamless link to the Recto-Marikina LRT line.

Powerbrokers overruled that original plan. Instead, the location was moved to Farmers Market (obviously to capture the foot traffic for the benefit of the Araneta Center). Commuters now have to walk 450 meters from Farmers Market to Gateway Mall.

Sure, the shops in these two malls benefit. But day in and day out, they punish the commuters. The crime against the commuting public is repeated everyday. This is what happens when commercial interests overrule both public convenience and engineering wisdom.

Guess who was the powerbroker responsible for this atrocity against commuters? He is likely the same one pushing the “common station” to the Trinoma side, overruling the professional opinion of career DOTC engineers.


Former Makati vice-mayor Ernesto Mercado is proving his talent as weaver of intrigue.

Recall that at the start of the Senate “subcommittee” hearings on the controversial Makati building, he claimed that the cakes the city gives out to its senior citizens was overpriced 300%. He even brought cakes to Senate for dramatic effect.

When confronted with the documentation showing the cakes to be priced lower than similar products commercially available, he sheepishly admitted to simple “guessing.” That was the end of that.

In the last hearing, he quotes a dead man to try to link alleged kickbacks in the Makati buildings to a farm in Batangas allegedly owned by the Binay family. The alleged kickbacks from the Makati building, says Mercado, were used to offset construction costs for the Batangas facility.

The dead man could neither corroborate nor deny Mercado’s attribution — specifically, that some P30 million was deducted from the bag of money delivered to Mrs. Binay to pay the contractor. If the builder of the Batangas property is the same contractor of the questioned Makati, it should have been easier to do the offsetting himself.

Notwithstanding that glaring flaw, his fan base of three senators composing the “subcommittee” not only accepted his attribution uncritically, they were ready with their own slide presentations to complement Mercado’s story. On cue, a subpoena was issued to the owner of Sunchamp agri-tourism facility, a businessman named Anthony Tiu who, according to the documents, owns the place.

The story Mercado weaves looks more contrived by the day.