By Jarius Bondoc | The Philippine Star | 

The sudden new chief at the Land Transportation Office, Roberto Cabrera, faces a tough task. In just six remaining months of the bungling administration, he must solve the shameful years-long backlog of vehicle license plates. The problem is “ripe,” but not as Cabrera likens it to “fruit ready for the picking.” It’s a bomb about to burst. His boss Transport Sec. Joseph Abaya had lit the fuse in hiring an unqualified maker of “tamper-proof” metal plates. The local principal, a mere backyard operation, is banned from government contracting due to forgery. The Dutch “technology partner” is undercapitalized. They simply have no capacity to fabricate 20 million four-wheeled vehicle and motorcycle tins. Abaya’s sin is catching up with him. The former LTO head left in a huff during the Christmas holidays, having had enough of covering up for Abaya. The latter must think putting in a new guy would get him off the hook.

It’s worth reading between the lines how Cabrera plans to do it. He says the President, among others, would help him. Hmm, does that mean President Noynoy Aquino knows the cause? Surely word has penetrated P-Noy’s cordon sanitaire that the LTO is unable to issue vehicle plates, aside from driver licenses. Vehicle owners and drivers have been getting nothing for the registration fees they are made to pay. Even lawmakers from the ruling Liberal Party, of which Aquino is chairman and Abaya is president, cry “rip-off.” But does P-Noy know that one can’t get good work from bad men, as one cannot squeeze blood from a turnip? If he hasn’t heard of Abaya’s P3.8-billion vehicle plate scam, then he must be dumb. If he knows yet retains Abaya, then he must be part of the scam.

Irate vehicle owners and drivers will be placated with “Band-aid solutions.” The LTO is now advising new car registrants to make their own cardboard plates with computer-generated numbers; renewals to keep following up their stickers every month or so; and drivers to be content with paper instead of plastic licenses with photos. Everybody must grin and bear it as criminals run roughshod in plate-less getaway cars of undocumented drivers.

Abaya’s sins are catching up with him as well in railways, airports, and seaports.

The MRT-3 commuter rail is forced to accept engine-less coaches from the inexpert Chinese that Abaya contracted. The deal, P3.8 billion like the vehicle plate scam, is for 48 running units. But for reasons known only to Abaya, the arriving coaches are mere shells.

Engine-less, the prototypes had not been test-run for 5,000 km, for operability and safety, as the contract states. Abaya separately is buying traction motors, to be installed at the MRT-3’s unequipped depot.

Abaya brags to do the 5,000-km test runs on the MRT-3 tracks itself next month. Just how is a creaky mystery. Those tracks are dilapidated, due to shoddy upkeep by LP-mates whom he corruptly contracted in PH Trams (Oct. 2012-Sept. 2013) and Global Epcom (Sept. 2013-July 2015). Tests are supposed to be at 45-65 kph on varying curves and slopes. Yet the MRT-3 trains can run only 10-35 kph on the rundown tracks. He intends to do it at night. That would leave no time for the MRT-3 even cursorily to inspect the tracks for cracks during off hours. Expect more accidents and breakdowns.

The sin at PH Trams easily had caught up with Abaya. The fledgling LP front partnered with CB&T, longtime maintenance servicer of LRT-1, to bag the $1.15-million monthly MRT-3 budget. Two months after the forced marriage, it was on the rocks, the CB&T president told The STAR. PH Trams could not supply the spare parts to CB&T’s manpower. Abaya replaced it with the same LP mates’ Global Epcom, in tandem with APT Global, the LRT-2 maintenance firm. Same problem, Epcom had no money for parts. Result: MRT-3 operation shutdowns, if not accidents, every other day.

Abaya has granted a longer three-year maintenance deal to the same LP mates, this time with a Korean as front. Price: P3.8 billion. Again? Hmm, he must find that number lucky.

At LRT-1 Abaya’s ineptitude has shown too. As 2015 came to a close the press reminded P-Noy of a promise to extend the railway into Cavite by then, or else have himself and Abaya run over by trains. The Press Secretary had to beg to not take all of P-Noy’s words literally – which provoked questions on what other presidential avowals must be ignored.

At LRT-2 the extension of a mere four km has just begun. This was five years after P-Noy became President, and vowed to make the country First World.

The multiple rail mess has worsened traffic and misery of Mega Manilans. Related is congestion at the Port of Manila. Container trailers choke the city roads because Abaya has failed to improve service at and access to Batangas port in the south and Subic in the north.

Related too is runway congestion at Manila International Airport, named after P-Noy’s father Ninoy Aquino. Any megalopolis needs two, even three airports. Sycophant Abaya hasn’t made nearby Clark International Airport in Pampanga an extension of MIA because it’s named after the father of P-Noy’s self-declared nemesis, predecessor Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. The MIA runway congestion delays not only arriving and departing flights there, but also in connected domestic and international destinations. Investments and tourism suffer.

Making matters worse at the MIA is the “tanim-bala” extortion racket of security personnel. Crooks have come to infest agencies under Abaya. For, in the Philippines, it’s “follow the inept, corrupt leader.”