By Alex Magno | The Philippine Star | November 6, 2014

It is a classic in understatement. The team of experts from Hong Kong’s MTR asked to audit the MRT-3 system submitted a report that described the condition of the facility as “unsatisfactory.”

That team was being extremely polite. Reading the report, it is clear that the system is decrepit. It is a hazard for the hundreds of thousands who use it each day.

Boo Chanco, in his column yesterday, covered much of the report submitted by the HK-MTR team. What really stands out is effort exerted by the DOTC and the MRT management to deny the technical audit team the information they needed to make a full assessment.

Only a month’s maintenance record of the current service provided was opened to the audit team. The audit team requested for five years of maintenance data and a host of other pieces of information. The DOTC ignored those requests, forcing the audit team to resort to merely a visual inspection of the facility.

Among the pieces of information the audit team wanted were: the inventory record of maintenance spares, the rail insulation report, the list of maintenance tools and equipment, a sample of the safety document, a sample of the protection relay setting and several others. None was yielded by the DOTC.

Why is the DOTC so anxious to keep the maintenance records of the MRT-3 from independent scrutiny?The DOTC’s behavior towards the independent technical audit is nothing short of scandalous. It strongly suggests an interest to cover up for the questionable maintenance service providers contracted by the DOTC without the benefit of a public bidding. Much has already been written about the contracts with PH Trams and APT Global, the companies DOTC contracted.

For the record, it was the private owners of the MRT who contracted the HK-MTR technical audit. They wanted an accurate evaluation of the asset that, after all, they owned. The request for a technical audit was done March this year.

DOTC hewed and hawed, finding every bureaucratic excuse to delay the audit. The DOTC finally relented on August 13, but only after a defective train rammed through the barrier at the Taft station.

Even as the DOTC relented, documents show the department tried to exclude the examination of maintenance records from the coverage of the audit. Why?

Spotty maintenance is at the core of the MRT-3’s woes. The private owners of the system are worried that should this spotty maintenance record continue, the system’s life will be drastically shortened. In short, DOTC incompetence will hasten depreciation of a privately owned asset — apart from threatening the life and limb of commuters, of course.

Even as the technical audit team was reduced to a visual inspection of the system, their findings are shocking. They found vital electrical wiring chafed, grease leaking out of train parts due to failure to replace sealants and accumulated dust in the sensitive control systems. Train panels have not been painted. When it rains, some of the carriages flooded.

Maintenance, which the DOTC did not want audited, is a total failure. Billions were paid the maintenance service providers, and yet they could not even wipe dust off the instrumentation panels!

Faced with the damning report, DOTC Secretary Abaya, in a manner consistent with this administration, blamed the private owners of the facility for the failure. He says this with a straight face even as the DOTC has commandeered the maintenance contracts and awarded it to apparent cronies.