By Conrado Banal | Philippine Daily Inquirer | June 22, 2015

THE MALACAÑANG boys of our leader Benigno Simeon, aka BS, recently said sorry—once again with feelings—over the dismal state of the Edsa light rail system known as MRT.

The Inquirer put out last week, real-time photos of MRT commuters risking life and limb, as they precariously trekked the elevated MRT structure, forced out of the train that stopped just in the nick of time: The afternoon homeward bound rush hour.

“Sorry,” said the boys in the Palace in their statement to media.

That should bring the number of times, in the past 15 months or so, the Palace issued such an awkward apology to at least seven.

It would be hard to say, of course, whether the apology was sincere, but saying “sorry” over the same thing every time, would already be an addiction to self-flagellation.

The Malacañang boys, of course, could hardly resort to giving out excuses and alibis this time, similar to what they did on the “underspending” problem of the administration.

But the fact remains that talk is cheap.

To think, the administration has risked earning the annoyance of the public over the continual mantra of the Palace boys, constantly swearing on the success of the supposed “reform program” of this administration.

Down here, the guys knew all along that we were still snarled in bureaucratic red tape, the basic element of corruption.

So it remained a mystery why Malacañang insisted on asking the public for forgiveness over the MRT, when everybody knew that the DOTC was the department that kept on bungling the whole darn thing.

This was the train system that served the public well before the Department of Transportation and Communications ruined it.

For despite the addiction of Malacañang to saying “sorry,” the DOTC only took to heart the very interest of the public by mismanaging the system, and after the damage was done, it then did everything to drag its foot on the solutions.

Because the DOTC loved its MRT customers, it promised they would see “improvement” in the service by next month. Thanks a lot. Never mind that the public only had to bear with the MRT chaos for more than two years now.

The caring DOTC nevertheless forgot to say that the MRT did not have a maintenance contractor for the past few months, because what passed for “maintenance contractor” in the past three years had abandoned the job earlier.

Not that the desertion mattered. We all knew Japanese firm Sumitomo did the MRT upkeep from day one with flying colors. Because Sumitomo did a good job, the DOTC had to drop it.

The DOTC decided that Sumitomo was just too expensive, and in keeping with the “matuwid na daan” slogan of the administration, the DOTC hired an inexperienced group to replace Sumitomo.

It turned out that, by using connections here and there, particularly with the Liberal Party of our dear leader, BS, the new maintenance group only used the MRT as a lactating bovine.

Minus the LP-backed janitorial contractor masquerading as maintenance, the DOTC had to rush getting “real” contractors.

Still, the new contracts would only be temporary, lasting for three months, possibly renewable upon the whim of the top honchos in this administration with LP connections.

As expected, the DOTC needed more than four months to obtain three-month contracts. It also brilliantly decided it would have to chop into four separate parts the MRT maintenance.

The question nevertheless remained: What kind of “improvement” in the MRT service would the pitiful public see by this July, with those three-month contracts sub-divided into four different maintenance areas?

It would not be that easy, Mr. Sleazy, because spare parts alone would already take a year to order, and the new contractors would not even know yet what parts to replace right away.

Experts from abroad declared that the MRT needed a complete overhaul, in effect calling it a ticking time bomb, since the rails themselves for instance were already so brittle.

This is a fact: The DOTC has been using its big fat posterior to pin down some proposals from private groups to rehabilitate the MRT.

For instance, when the DOTC promised “improvements” in the service in July, it did not seem to recall that in 2011, the Metro Pacific group of MVP (Manuel V. Pangilinan) had proposed to spend $500 million to upgrade the entire MRT line—and increase its capacity by more than double—at no cost to the Aquino (Part II) administration.

That was four years ago, and I would bet the inheritance of my neighbor’s spouse that the results would have been seen by the public way before this July.

Last year, Sumitomo of Japan also proposed to spend some $150 million for about a hundred new cars for the MRT, on top of rehabilitating the existing stock of about 80 cars.

The Sumitomo proposal would mean that the capacity of the MRT, originally rated at about 500,000 passengers a day, which was forced up to about 650,000 a day due to sheer demand, could be expanded to 1.2 million.

What a relief would that be to the commuters, right?

The latest proposal came from German firm Schunk Bahn, which wanted to spend about P5 billion to change the fragile rails and overhaul the system, with a three-year maintenance tucked into the contract.

All along, the DOTC just sat on proposals, while it schemed on ungodly things to do with the fast deteriorating MRT, forcing itself into those chop-chop provisional maintenance contract—and all for what?

Well, the DOTC salivated over spending government funds—your tax payments—to buy the MRT from its private owner for P54 billion, possibly to flip it to a favored private group, similar to what it did with the LRT-1 system.

Apparently to pacify the natives, while the DOTC worked on its buy-and-sell scheme, it would spend billions of pesos more of your tax money to overhaul the system and buy new coaches and trains and what have you. You know—chalking the not-so-cheap improvements as bonus for the favored future owners!

Look, the DOTC promised MRT riders it would get new coaches and trains from Chinese firm Dalian by August.

Not so fast, Caiphas, because Dalian never made the MRT-kind of coaches and trains. What it would send here would be prototypes.

In other words, MRT riders would become mere guinea pigs of the Chinese.