February 5, 2016

MANILA, Philippines - "Wag na natin linlangin yung publiko. Wag na nating ilihis sa katotohanan. Harapin natin ang issue. Sagutin natin ang issue. Wag na nating dalhin kung saan saan pa yung usapan."

This was the clear battle cry of Metro Rail Transit Holdings (MRTH) Chairman Robert Sobrepena on a press conference held last February 5, 2016.

Answering Transportation Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya's statements blaming the Sobrepena group for the current state of the MRT, the Chairman argues that all of their proposals dating back in 1999 up until 2015 were left overlooked by the department. These proposals were drafted and submitted by private sectors at no cost to the government.

Asked what he thinks of the government's resistance, Chairman Sobrepena jokingly quips, "Problema natin yung no cost to government. We don't understand."

Another issue addressed during the press conference was the absence of a public bidding. Awarding of MRT maintenance contracts were done by secret negotiations and not the usual public bidding, such as the case of the last two providers, namely the Philippine Trans Rail Management and Services Corp. (PH Trams) and APT Global.

The initial maintenance provider was Sumitomo whose contract was not renewed back in 2012 during the time of former DOTC secretary Mar Roxas. The non renewal of contract has led DOTC to awarding MRT's maintenance contract to PH Trams, who has a questionable track record in railways and mass transport. PH Trams' appointment was signed three times before the government finally terminated its contract and awarded it to APT Global, which was an equally unqualified maintenance provider.

"The fact that they awarded an important contract to a 2-month old capitalized at Php 600,000, right there you can see the smoking gun," added Sobrepena.

The lack of a due process resulting into incompetent awarding of contracts has been causing all sorts of problems in the system.

In defense to Secretary Abaya's claim that Chairman Robert Sobrepena fails to do his job, the Chairman quickly responds, "Pag sinabi niyang wala kaming ginawa, that is a flat lie." The chairman claims that he and his team have been continuously submitting proposals in hopes of getting a go signal from the government. These proposals aim to conduct a fast track repair for the entire system with the aim of providing a better, safer, and more convenient mass transit for the public.

Asked if he thinks former DOTC secretary and now presidentiable Mar Roxas should be liable, Sobrepena was quick to reply "I think that would be something that the court should look into".

As for the future of the MRT, Sobrepena and his group can only hope the Ombudsman and the Department of Justice (DOJ) look into the issue and take rightful legal action to those considered liable. - Chen Aquino