By Jarius Bondo | The Philippine Star | October 14, 2015

Transport Sec. Joseph Abaya has spent and is spending a stupendous P10.07 billion on the MRT-3 since 2012. He even doubled the fares since the New Year. Yet all he has to show for it are broken rails and coaches, dilapidated stations and daily breakdowns, and long lines of commuters waiting for rides under the sun or rain.

The amount is more than quadruple the P2.28 billion that Makati mayor Junjun Binay allegedly frittered away on a city hall car park, for which he is being dismissed from office. Shouldn’t Abaya be sacked next, if he didn’t come ahead?

The P10.07 billion is what Abaya threw into one commuter rail alone. It doesn’t include untold billions of pesos he misused on the equally deteriorated LRT-1 and -2, much more the P3.2 billion he is paying his shoddy new maker of vehicle license plates, and more anomalies in sea and air transport. Lesser public officers have been jailed for pocketing two thousand or so pesos.

Abaya’s P10.07 billion consists of:

(1) P1.8 billion to Liberal Party-mates in substandard maintenance firms – two-month-old, undercapitalized PH Trams, Oct. 2012-Aug. 2013, and shadowy Global Epcom, Sept. 2013-July 2015;

(2) P7.2 million on seven maintenance subcontractors, including influential Global Epcom, under an indeterminate month-to-month duration, so far Aug.-Oct. 2015, till he concludes a long-term deal;

(3) P4.2 billion to a yet undisclosed party with whom he secretly is negotiating an “emergency” three-year rehab, that includes maintenance parts and service, overhaul of 54 remaining out of the 73 original LRVs (light rail vehicles, or coaches), total replacement of the signaling system, and other maintenance needs;

(4) P160 million for a new rail grinder, used only once a year, and already included among the maintenance parts that the prospective contractor should provide in Item 3;

(5) P53.4 million for a seven-month upgrade of the signaling system, despite the projected total replacement under Item 3; and

(6) P3.8 billion for 48 new LRVs by China’s Dalian Rolling Stock and Locomotive Corp., which is not known to make engined LRVs to begin with.

All the expenses have been wasteful. It was under PH Trams and Global Epcom that the tracks, LRVs, signaling, power supply, and stations began to decline. The inexperienced firms performed no real maintenance, only patchwork. Abaya had rescinded the 12-year-long contract of Japanese giant Sumitomo, to accommodate his LP-mates, as their acting president. At the end of two years under them, Hong Kong’s MTR Corp., hired to assess its condition, rated MRT-3 totally unsafe to ride. In response, Abaya doubled the fares.

Too, the Australian expert hired to assess the signaling was shocked to find the supposedly dust-free control room filthy, littered with cigarette butts, the carpeting muddy, and with busted air conditioner. The LRVs were left to rot, as the maintenance firms anticipated a Congressional allotment for a major overhaul anyway. The tracks crumbled under the weight of overloaded, because less frequent trains. At one point Abaya illegally used the government-owned LRT-2’s track stockpile to replace that of the privately owned but government-run MRT-3, until exposed in this column. Almost daily breakdowns and serious accidents marred the operations. As a consequence, Metro Manila traffic worsened, amounting to P2.5 billion daily man-hour and business opportunity losses.

Abaya is even duplicating the contracts, like the rail grinder and signaling. He needlessly incited lawsuits by transferring the proposed MRT-3 common station with the LRT-1 from the original side of one mall to another.

Abaya is letting Dalian Corp. violate the terms of the LRV supply contract. Last Aug. he accepted delivery of the first prototype, or fully functional sample. But it had no engine, meaning it was never tested for 5,000 km as required. Abaya was forced to admit that he is buying separate traction motors from Germany for the arriving LRVs. This would mean yet added costs for the materials and delayed testings. He also is talking about seven km of new rails for the 17-km-long double tracks, still more expenses because he let the LP contractors take the money and run.

Abaya has never been charged for any of the long-exposed irregularities. The closest he ever got was to be investigated for signing in Oct. 2012 the contract with PH Trams, in which the uncle-in-law of then-MRT-3 general manager Al S. Vitangcol is an incorporator-director. The Ombudsman indicted the latter two, along with PH Trams chairman and LP fundraiser Marlo dela Cruz and the Little Injuns who helped negotiate the deal with no public bidding. Yet it cleared Abaya, on pretext that he was only two days on the job when he signed, ignoring the fact that many months later he had also extended the sleazy contract – not once but thrice – and then replaced PH Trams with Global Epcom where the same Marlo dela Cruz was the “authorized representative.”

In invoking innocence because “only two days on the job,” Abaya in effect is implicating his predecessor Mar Roxas, LP president-on-leave and Election 2016 standard bearer. Perhaps that is Abaya’s way of signaling their virtual immunity from suit.

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A repeat of last year’s Manila port congestion looms, to worsen the megalopolis’ traffic gridlock. Palpable is a shortage of construction materials like cement and steel, due to failure of port authorities to release them on time. Many ongoing construction works are beginning to slide behind schedule, including the government’s PPP projects like the Manila North-to-South connector road. If the Philippine Ports Authority does not unclog its bureaucratic process, delays will soon affect even basic goods. That could drive up commodity prices, right smack in the Christmas season. The PPA had better wake up and work. Or hasn’t it learned the lesson of the economic devastation due to port congestion?