Marichu A. Villanueva  April 1, 2016

Names of certain personalities not even candidates in the coming elections were dragged into the heated exchange during the televised presidential debate held in Cebu last March 20. Among them was former Metro Rail Transit (MRT) general manager Al Vitangcol whose name was, in fact, mentioned several times in the course of the two and a half-hour debate.

Three presidential candidates mentioned Vitangcol, namely, Vice President Jejomar Binay, former Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) Secretary Mar Roxas II and, Sen. Grace Poe. In passing remarks, Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte echoed public safety concerns due to the administration’s poor upkeep of the MRT.

Vitangcol’s name cropped up when Poe raised the issue of frequent breakdown of MRT operations. Poe blamed it on several questioned maintenance contracts entered into by the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) where MRT is one of the attached agencies.

Before he was transferred to DILG, Roxas headed the DOTC from June 2011 to August 2012. Poe, on the other hand, headed the Senate sub-committee on public services that conducted several public hearings on the MRT.

But it was the damning rebuttal by VP Binay who cunningly alluded to Vitangcol’s having implicated Roxas in affidavits filed before the Sandiganbayan. Vitangcol swore he never spoke with Binay nor with Poe.

A visibly irritated Roxas argued the “matuwid na daan” of the administration of President Benigno “Noy” Aquino III does not countenance shenanigans in the government. This is why, Roxas fumed, Vitangcol was “removed” as MRT general manager. Roxas further noted the maintenance contract was awarded to PH Trams where Vitangcol’s uncle turned out later to be one of the owners of the winning bidder.

Quietly watching the debate on TV at his home, Vitangcol heard his name thrown in the middle of the stormy exchange. “I was surprised and at the same time disgusted with the ‘un-presidential’ statement of Mr. Roxas,” Vitangcol rued.

A lawyer by profession, Vitangcol immediately sought to defend his honor and called up TV5 as the carrying network of the Cebu presidential debate in joint partnership with The STAR, BusinessWorld, Bloomberg and The Freeman. He asked for TV5 news department chief Luchie Valdes, who moderated the presidential debate, to request for equal airtime to rebut the attacks against him. Unfortunately, Valdes was still in Cebu, Vitangcol was told.

He kept his peace and let Holy Week pass. Vitangcol finally broke his silence and let out a mouthful of his own tell-all about the MRT mess at the Kapihan sa Manila Bay at Café Adriatico in Malate, Manila last Wednesday.

Vitangcol quoted verbatim the exact words of Roxas in Tagalog spewed out during the Cebu debate. He swore the statements of Roxas were wrong on three counts. Vitangcol branded them as barefaced “lies” of Roxas and repeated by the Aquino administration to protect the presidential standard bearer of the ruling Liberal Party (LP).

First erroneous claim of Roxas, Vitangcol said, was that he was not removed nor fired from his post but resigned at his own volition on May 27, 2014. Proof of which, Vitangcol showed us a copy of his one-page resignation letter addressed to President Aquino and the acceptance letter by executive secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr., dated June 11, 2014.

“On behalf of His Excellency… this is to inform you that your resignation is hereby accepted, effective immediately,” Ochoa stated.

Vitangcol resigned a day after the column of Jarius Bondoc came out in The STAR with his expose: “MRT chief gave P517-M contract to uncle-in-law.” Incidentally, a copy of Bondoc’s column was one of the pieces of evidence submitted by DOTC Undersecretary for legal affairs Jose Perpetuo Lotilla to Ombudsman Conchita Morales “for investigation and appropriate action.”

Second wrongful claim by Roxas, Vitangcol cited, was that the person referred to as his supposed uncle, Arturo Soriano as owner of PH Trams, is not his but his wife’s uncle.

And third wrongful claim, Vitangcol said, was Soriano had already sold his shares in PH Trams to its chairman Marlo de la Cruz under a Deed of Assignment signed on September 10, 2012. This was before the firm even joined the bid for the MRT maintenance contract. The PH Trams – the controversial maintenance subcontractor and partner in the joint venture – eventually won a six-month interim maintenance contract of the MRT-3. De la Cruz happens to be a member of the LP Pangasinan chapter.

Also, implicated by Vitangcol is Roxas’ successor, incumbent DOTC Sec. Joseph Emilio Abaya Jr. as among the accountable officials in the questioned MRT maintenance contract. He named a certain Eugene Rapanut, another LP card-bearing member who allegedly acted as middleman on other highly irregular, if not anomalous MRT contracts.

A certification signed by Francisco “Franz” Ranches Jr. as LP chairman Ilocos Sur Chapter was issued to Rapanut on June 8, 2010.

From Abaya’s own public admission, Vitangcol pointed out, De la Cruz is a friend of the incumbent DOTC Secretary. But during Poe’s public hearings on the MRT-3 troubles, Vitangcol recalled, Abaya “washed his hands like Pontius Pilate” when asked several times if he knows De la Cruz.

Vitangcol brought to light Rapanut as a shadowy character whom he pointed as the “broker” for the P3.8-billion contract with Chinese firm CNR Dalian Locomotive and Rolling Stock Co.

Rapanut, Vitangcol further revealed, was also the “broker” for the P3.8-billion three-year maintenance contract for the MRT won by Korean-led Busan Transportation Corp., Edison Construction & Development Corp.-Tramat Mercantile-TMI Corp.-Castan Corp. consortium.

No longer bound to keep quiet by orders of his former bosses at the DOTC, Vitangcol freely talked about what he knew then but was prevented to do so.

Vitangcol literally broke down after he was asked how would he wage a battle in court which he described as no longer a legal but “political case.” Vitangcol excused himself at least three times in order to go to the “men’s room” trying to hide his tears.

Making light of the situation, Vitangcol wisecracked he was merely blowing his nose. That was after he blew the whistle on these LP hands behind the MRT mess.