Jarius Bondoc | Philstar | October 4, 2016

The MRT-3 commuter railway broke down every two to three days in the first half of 2016. Now it's worse, bogging down two to three times a day. Disobeyed is President Rody Duterte’s order to transport officials to cut the long waiting lines of passengers under sun and rain. Unmet too is Transport Sec. Arturo Tugade’s goal of 20 trains running during peak hours.

But the maintenance contractor has a tidy excuse for it. Supposedly the old Czech-made trains are unsuitable, because too large and heavy for the elevated tracks. So at best they can chug at only 40 kph.

That alibi was given by Busan Transport Corp. of Korea two weeks ago. It obscured four facts: One, for 13 years starting 2000, the supposedly inapt trains zipped up to 65 kph, until the maintenance was given to a political dealer in 2012. Two, the MRT-3 deteriorated in 2012-2015 under that Liberal Party fundraiser. Three, the railway continues to rot because Busan and its four Filipino dummies, since taking over in Jan. 2016, have not stockpiled on spare parts for proper rail upkeep. Four, behind the four present dummies is the same LP man.

The result is the suffering of 550,000 daily passengers. Memes decry in the social media the injuries, offloading, and delays that the daily breakdowns cause. The horrible experiences have been likened to the Korean zombie movie "Train to Busan."

Why the authorities have not acted on the mess is the big question. Long has it been exposed that MRT-3's woes began when then-transport and LP chief Joseph Abaya removed in 2012 the original maintenance contractor, Japanese giant Sumitomo Corp. Taking over the P57-million monthly deal was two-month-old, undercapitalized (P625,000) PH Trams. Behind it was, among others, Marlo dela Cruz, LP-Pangasinan financier. After ten-and-a-half months, Abaya replaced PH Trams with newly revived dormant firm Global Epcom. Its authorized rep was the same Marlo dela Cruz.

In Jan. 2015, after wangling billion-peso subsidies from Congress, Abaya and MRT-3 general manager Roman Buenafe doubled the fares. Still the rail line declined. In July-Dec. 2015 they broke up the maintenance into seven subcontractors, including a cousin and top election campaign contributor of Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV. Dela Cruz's Global Epcom retained upkeep of only the stations. President Duterte denounced those anomalies in his campaign speeches last May.

In Aug. 2015 Abaya and Buenafe began closed-door talks for Busan to take on a three-year maintenance for P4.25 billion, to start in Jan. 2016. Behind Busan was Eugene Rapanut, LP-Ilocos Sur who allegedly had brokered a P3.8-billion purchase of new coaches from China with a five-percent kickback. Busan is to maintain the trains, tracks, power supply, and stations; overhaul 54 of the 73 Czech coaches; and replace the signaling system. The Korean firm with P40-billion net worth purportedly is only four percent of the consortium; 96 percent is held by four Filipino firms, with combined authorized capital of P1 billion. The four have no experience in rails, only in construction, agricultural supply, general merchandising, and plumbing. Behind them is again Marlo dela Cruz. Those too were criticized by Duterte.

In Oct. 2015 Abaya and Buenafe contracted out the upgrade of the old signaling for P53.4 million, and purchased seven kilometers of tracks for P61.5 million and a rail grinder for P160 million. Yet those were among the works, supplies, and equipment that Busan was supposed to provide under its P4.25-billion deal starting in only three months.

Abaya left in June 2016. His political appointee Buenafe was retained as MRT-3 GM by his high school chum, the new Undersecretary for Railways Noel Eli Kintanar.

In July and Aug. 2016 MRT-3 malfunctioned 102 times, more than the 79 incidents in Jan.-June. Busan claims to be fixing the railway, yet in Sept. the breakdowns increased to twice to thrice a day.