By Business Mirror Editorial | Business Mirror | December 9, 2015

THE Metro Rail Transit (MRT) Line 3 has become not just a controversial project but a symbol of government incompetence. Once hailed as a heaven-sent solution to Metro Manila’s traffic gridlock, it has become a living hell for millions of Metro commuters who have to suffer the consequence of leadership failure every day.

After more than 16 years in operation, the MRT today is not even close to what it was once touted to be—a modern, fast, efficient and convenient transport system. Thanks to the greed of the powers that be, it has evolved into an accident-prone, uncomfortable yet inevitable mode of public transport.

The deterioration of MRT coaches and the disappearance of quality service created a new activity among people in the government: finger-pointing.

Liberal Party presidential candidate and former Transportation Secretary Manuel A. Roxas II recently pointed to the MRT contract as an endeavor tainted with “original sin.” This happened during a “Meet Your Candidates” forum organized by the alumni of American business schools such as Harvard, Wharton and Kellog. When Roxas was asked if he thought he did enough during his stint as secretary of the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC), he responded by saying that there was original sin in the MRT contract.

“This is a contract that started out in original sin. The contract itself was anomalous and it binds the government to continue this program,” Roxas declared, adding that the MRT pact only allows the operator to buy new trains and assures the firm of 15-percent return. “You tell me whether that’s anomalous or not,” he quipped.

We all know that Adam and Eve committed the original sin. We wonder, though, if Roxas is aware that the “Adam and Eve” of the MRT 3 mess, following his original sin logic, include the mother of his boss. The contract he referred to was drafted by the administration of the late President Corazon Aquino and awarded during the time of former President Fidel V. Ramos.

Apparently, Roxas was unaware of the facts. The MRT contract originally guaranteed 21-percent return for investors when President Cory offered it out in 1991 to entice investors to build the first MRT in the country at a time when government finances were in dire straits. It was labeled a priority project of the Cory administration. To his credit, however, Ramos was able to bring this rate down to 15 percent, which was not anomalous but advantageous to the government because the Philippines was paying 25-year bonds during that time at 18 percent. Businesspeople agree that the investors were actually getting less than what the Philippines was already paying then, given that the MRT 3 project also has a 25-year term.

We know that the problems with the MRT 3 only started after the DOTC took over maintenance of the train system from a reputable company contracted by the private owners. In 2012 PH Trams, a two-month-old company with meager P625,000 capital, bagged the P517.5-million contract to service the MRT 3 trains and tracks. From then on train service got worse and worse and worse.