By Editorial | The Standard | January 6, 2016

WE were astounded to hear Transportation Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya declare this week that experience and a track record did not matter when it came to the Filipino partners in a Korean-led consortium that was recently awarded a P4.25-billion maintenance contract for the Metro Rail Transit  system.

Under fire for approving the contract without the benefit of public bidding, Abaya said a negotiated deal was needed to come to grips with an “emergency situation”—presumably the alarming and rapid deterioration of the urban train system under his watch.

Abaya also said the Department of Transportation and Communications had tried twice to bid out the maintenance contract, but these efforts were unsuccessful because of the lack of qualified bidders.

Now since Abaya himself had approved the previous maintenance contract that led to the increasingly poor and unsafe commuter train service, it is fair to say that the secretary used an “emergency” of his own making to justify skirting the procurement law’s requirement of a public bidding.

It is also worth noting that the second of the failed bids had taken place in January 2015 or almost a year before Abaya declared “an emergency” in December of the same year. This begs the question: If the need was truly so urgent, and an emergency, no less, why did Abaya wait 11 months before acting?

But Abaya is impervious to accusations that the contract constituted a sweetheart deal, even though the Korean company, Busan Transportation Corp., just turned 10 years old this January and has no apparent track record in maintaining railway operations outside of its own home country. Nor does it matter, Abaya insists, that Busan’s local partners are into construction, agricultural equipment, trading and plumbing—none of which is likely to prove helpful in maintaining a complex and aging urban rail transit system.

But Abaya had an answer for that, too. The country’s commuter train system, he said, was “relatively young” and no Filipino companies have developed the kind of expertise related to its maintenance.

This claim seemed difficult to believe, given that the LRT began operating in 1984 or 32 years ago, while the MRT began in 1999 or 17 years ago. Abaya’s suggestion that no Filipino companies were able to develop an expertise in maintaining either of these commuter systems after all these years certainly reflects poorly on Philippine companies.

But perhaps Abaya’s philosophy in hiring contractors simply mirrors the administration’s own approach to appointing government officials and Cabinet secretaries, where no experience or track record is required.