By Boo Chanco | | November 30, 2015

Mar Roxas told a forum last week that as far as the MRT is concerned, he did everything he could during his time as secretary of the DOTC. “I’m confident that we did all that we could do given what we could do at that time,” he said, pertaining to the issues hounding the Metro Rail Transit (MRT-3).

Mar blamed the current BLT contract, which, he stressed, was anomalous and “started out in original sin.” If he wins the presidential race next year, he said he will abrogate the contract.

Oh well… as I said in a previous column, what difference will a change in title from DOTC Secretary to President make? He said he will abrogate the offending contract. But couldn’t he have done that in 2012 when he figured out that was the problem? I am sure if he argued hard enough, P-Noy would have allowed him to do that.

Mar went on to explain they had a difficult time dealing with the MRTC owners, saying DOTC even tried to buy back control. Teka muna… the buyout they tried at a cost of about P60 billion was with reference to the economic rights represented by securitized bonds mostly in the hands of DBP and LBP, both government GFIs. They didn’t even want to talk to MRTC, so how can he say he tried to buy them out?

The buyout wouldn’t have added a single inch of new tracks or a new train car, but merely free the GFIs of holding the bonds for government plus a generous profit. Indeed the lease payments under the BLT contract that would have gone to the owners have been going to the GFIs for years now… one pocket of government to another. The original owners sold their economic rights decades ago. They have for practical purposes, nothing to do with the running of MRT even if they still own it on paper.

The complication Mar was talking about has more to do with the right of the MRTC to appoint a maintenance contractor as well as buy new rolling stock and rehabilitate the system. DOTC went on to do all those things anyway in violation of the BLT contract so that effectively, DOTC is in total control of MRT 3 and was in a position to really fix things there. The deterioration of MRT-3 is totally government’s responsibility and fault.

Sure, I agree with Mar the original BLT contract was conceived in original sin with the original proponents that include such names as Ayala (a favorite of this administration), Ramcar, Anglo Philippines, Greenfield, Antel land and Fil Estate. Unfortunately, the public face of MRTC is Fil Estate of the Sobrepena family of the ill-fated College Assurance Plan and the controversial Camp John Hay development.

FVR shouldn’t have allowed such a one sided deal in favor of the proponents where they retained control of potential income earners along the route that could have been used to subsidize fares. The deal also practically transfers responsibility to government for running the system even as the proponents keep control of things like maintenance and capex matters where they can make money somehow.

The private proponents couldn’t care less how much fare is charged because they are guaranteed a fixed lease payment anyway. As we all know, setting fare rates is a very political process. I agree government should subsidize mass transport, but there must be a discussion and agreement preferably with the participation of Congress on the limits of such subsidy.

The difficult legal situation at MRT3 aside, Mar could have done something more to make lemonade out of a lemon of a situation. Manny Pangilinan made a proposal to take over the system, spend for capex and even give government some royalty and charge fares competitive with buses.

Manny made the proposal after making arrangements with the proponents in MRTC. That would have lifted the legal problems that included arbitration proceedings in Singapore filed by MRTC against DOTC. Best of all, the ball would have started to roll for MRT-3’s rehabilitation three years ago.

The story I heard was that Mar did present Manny’s proposal to P-Noy who supposedly commented, “baka naman masyadong yumaman si Manny.” That was the end of it.

If Mar was worried about the MVP proposal looking like an unsoli-cited proposal, they could said they would subject it to a Swiss Challenge. This is why I do not think Mar is being truthful when he said he did all that he could for MRT 3.

I guess P-Noy simply doesn’t like Manny P or maybe other members of the Cabinet do not like him. Remember it took three tries for MPIC to take control of SCTEX. Even Tong Payumo of BCDA couldn’t understand it. MVP’s group agreed to every demand of government to increase the take over price of SCTEX, only to end up requiring MPIC to face a Swiss Challenge before they finally won control.

Someone should have asked Mar during that Manila Polo Club forum if he intends to reappoint DOTC Sec Jun Abaya because that would be a good indication of how effective Mar’s administration would be. It is not just MRT 3, but the failures of DOTC include NAIA, LTO on car plates and licenses.

On LTO, I got this e-mail from Toti Chikiamco who is president of the Foundation for Economic Freedom (FEF):

Just came from LTO in Ayala MRT to get my license card which had been pending for the past five months now. Actually, I went there two months ago and it was closed.

A notice was posted that applicants should just follow up with the LTO branch in Makati for further announcements. My secretary called up last month and said license cards could be picked up in Ayala MRT again.

So off I went this morning. Greeted by a notice that the office was only entertaining issuance of previously applied cards. No license renewal. There were many people there waiting. Apparently, one had to put the receipt in line and wait until one would be called for the printing of the license cards.

I asked if it’s possible to go out for a while and then come back to pick up the license card. Di daw puede. I have to be personally present when they print out the card. Why can’t they just print them out and give them when presented with the receipt?

Dutifully, I put my receipt in line, but the LTO staff couldn’t say when they could process mine. There was also a maximum of 100 they could process in any given day. There were still plenty of people waiting.

After waiting for 15 minutes, an LTO guy came out and announced that since their Internet connection was off and on, processing would even take much longer and they don’t know when the cards could be printed and issued.

I blew my top and just asked back for my receipt. I literally cursed the government there and then. My heart also went out for the other people there, maybe drivers and OFWs, who can’t come back and had no choice but to keep waiting and waiting and waiting and probably losing out on a day’s salary.

Such suffering and indignities this administration inflict on the people. P...a, as Heneral Luna would say.

If they will make the people wait, they should put in enough chairs. Have clear notices on how the process will take place. And if they can process only a 100 applications, say so. Maybe even have somebody greet the people who can explain.

Manhid talaga.

I e-mailed Toti’s complaint to Sec Jun Abaya. This was his response:

Hi Boo,

Sorry was in the Senate for budget hearings. Have forwarded your email to Asec Aljun Tan LTO. I’m awaiting his reply. Thanks

Jun Abaya

I never heard from Sec Abaya again. I suppose Asec Tan didn’t reply to him. Or maybe he did and told Sec Jun there was nothing that could be done. Ganyan talaga. And Sec Jun couldn’t very well tell me that because it would make him look inutile. Maybe Sec Jun hoped I would just forget it.

No Mar, you and your buddy at DOTC could have done more.

On another topic, it looks I spoke too soon on Mar and TPP. I honestly had the impression he took the same stand as P-Noy on the issue. But apparently, he feels differently and said so last Thursday evening at the Polo Club, too late for me to correct my column last Friday.

Mar said we should be careful with TPP because of its impact on our farmers. He pointed out that developed-country agriculture sector is high-tech and highly subsidized and that joining the TPP would wipe out the low-tech and less subsidized Filipino farmers.

As someone commented, we may disagree with Mar’s economic logic, but at least he disagrees with his BFF on this issue.