By Christina Mendez | The Philippine Star | Updated July 6, 2015

MANILA, Philippines - Sen. Grace Poe questioned yesterday the decision of the Office of the Ombudsman not to file charges against Transportation Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya in connection with the maintenance contract for the Metro Rail Transit Line 3 (MRT-3), whose operations have been marred with glitches in recent months.

Poe respects the findings and recommendations of the Ombudsman in the indictment of former MRT-3 general manager Al Vitangcol III and his alleged cohorts but couldn’t understand why Abaya was cleared when he was also a signatory to the contract.

“I would like to read in full the text of the resolution to find the reasons why Abaya was not included despite having allegedly signed the contract presumably with full knowledge of the facts and the applicable law surrounding such anomalous procurement of services,” Poe said in a statement from the United States.

Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales indicted Vitangcol for graft in connection with the train’s allegedly anomalous interim maintenance contract. Also charged were Wilson de Vera, Marlo de la Cruz, Manolo Maralit, Federico Remo and Vitangcol’s uncle-in-law, Arturo Soriano, all incorporators of Philippine Trans Rail Management and Services Corp. (PH Trams). Soriano is also currently the provincial accountant of Pangasinan.

PH Trams bagged the MRT-3 interim maintenance deal worth $1.15 million a month without public bidding on Oct. 20, 2012 when Vitangcol headed the agency. The contract was renewed three times until Sept. 4, 2013.

Abaya, who signed the controversial maintenance contract, was cleared by the Ombudsman, which noted that he had not yet taken over the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) when the contract was finalized.

It was not immediately clear why Abaya was cleared. He took over the DOTC, which has jurisdiction over the MRT, on Oct. 18, 2012, two days before the contract was awarded.

It is also not clear why the indictment was for graft instead of plunder, a non-bailable offense recommended for amounts involving P50 million or higher.

Poe, who is among those considered in the presidential race next year, said the commuting public deserves better services in the wake of the fare hikes imposed early this year.

She shares the sentiments of the riding public that the responsible MRT-3 officers should be made to answer for the train malfunctions and the disruptions it brought to operations because of PH Trams’ failure to deliver its services.

“I welcome this indictment by the Ombudsman against Mr. Al Vitangcol and his cohorts on behalf of the hundreds of thousands of our countrymen who suffer the indignity of riding the MRT everyday under such deplorable conditions brought about by their almost heinous criminal indiscretions,” she added.

For her, the filing of charges should serve as a severe warning to the current MRT administrators to get their act together and that ineptness prompted by illegal motives shall be dealt with severely.

Poe headed the Senate subcommittee on public services that looked into the problems besetting MRT-3 operations. In past Senate hearings, she asked the DOTC secretary to submit a progress report on the upgrade and rehabilitation of the MRT-3.