Jarius Bondoc | Philstar.com | November 28, 2016

MRT-3 is deteriorating faster than ever. When it used to be twice or thrice a week, trains, signaling, and electricity now bog down twice or thrice a day. Commuters are left stranded along rail tracks and inside dead elevators. Hundreds of thousands are imperiled, inconvenienced, and shortchanged. Mega Manila traffic worsens as a result. The economy wastes billions of pesos every day in fuel, pollution, and opportunities.

The cause remains unresolved, although long exposed here. The maintenance servicer, consisting of a Korean and four Filipino dummies, has not been replacing worn-out parts. That’s despite its juicy P4.25-billion, three-year contract from the Dept. of Transportation (DOTr) starting Jan. 2016.

Last July, U-Sec for Rails Noel Kintanar gave an alibi on talk-radio. Supposedly the spare parts are so in demand worldwide that MRT-3 was No. 23 in the long waiting list. Weeks later the maintenance contractor crafted its own excuse. Allegedly the Czech-made coaches are all wrong, because designed for ground-level tracks, not elevated like MRT-3’s. There was no explanation why the trains had run well since 2000, and began to rot only under the contractor's watch.

Original equipment manufacturers guffawed at the lameness. In truth they were wary of that contractor doing the procuring of parts for MRT-3. The contractor was new, born only in Jan. 2016, thus had no track record as a buyer. It had a bad reputation too. Its silent partners were influence-peddlers at the DOTr. Its purchasing managers even demanded three-percent kickbacks, and foreign junkets disguise as product training.

As OEMs stayed away, the contractor took to using substandard materials. It got away with shoddiness because the DOTr let it. Coaches, tracks, power supplies, and escalators conked out from fake lubricants and parts; segments were cannibalized from the wrecks. Soon the contractor depleted the $17-million (P850-million) stockpile indicaciones para el viagra of parts that its predecessor Sumitomo Corp. left behind in 2012 at the MRT-3 depot. Yet it is so favored that the DOTr, which already paid for the spares, did not deduct that amount from the contract price.

In fake prestige, that contractor copies the name of Korea's Busan Transport Corp. Yet there are no Korean technicians at the MRT-3 repair yard, only Filipinos whom Sumitomo had to let go in 2012 but rehired by two maintenance stand-ins, PH Trams and Global Epcom.

That contractor is called Busan Universal Rail Inc., or BURI.

BURI is not supposed to be in the picture. It is there only for cover-up. The P4.25-billion maintenance originally was granted on Jan. 7, 2016, to giant Busan Transport. The Korean had the knowhow in railways, and financial clout from a net worth equivalent to P39 billion. But it lacked that crucial ingredient in Philippine government contracting: political connection. Busan brought in four influential Filipino "partners," all unknown and inexperienced in rails. Edison Construction Development Inc. was into real estate; Tramat Mercantile into general merchandising; TMI Corp., agricultural supply; and Castan Corp., plumbing. Ignorance in railways was unimportant; influence mattered.

BURI was incorporated on the same first week of Jan. 2016. (More on the dummying in succeeding reports)

BURI's boss is Busan agent Eugene Rapanut, also broker of DOTr's P3.8-billion purchase of faulty trains from China. Allegedly with P200-million kickback, none of the 48 new coaches is operational.

Behind the four Filipino dummies is Marlo dela Cruz, also the principal in earlier MRT-3 maintenance contractors PH Trams and Global Epcom. BURI's general manager is Marlo's brother William dela Cruz.

Rapanut and Dela Cruz reportedly are with the Liberal Party in Ilocos Sur and Pangasinan, respectively. That explains their influence with former DOTr chief Joseph Abaya, the LP president who granted the P4.25 billion. (More on their contracts and connections later)

In Jan.-June, BURI's first six months, the MRT-3 broke down 79 times. The Commission on Audit reported this month to Sec. Arthur Tugade that 31 were so serious as to imperil the safety of passengers. The COA noted that 78 percent of elevators and 57 percent of escalators in 13 stations were busted. If the MRT-3 couldn’t convey passengers up and down two storeys, then more so on the 17 kms of rails. Yet the DOTr paid BURI P54.5 million a month.

Rescind the contract if necessary, the COA advised Tugade.

MRT-3 has worsened from BURI's disregard of safety and reliability. In July-Aug., Tugade and Kintanar's first two months, there were 103 breakdowns, more than in the six months prior.

OEMs warn of disaster due to sloppy upkeep. In a meet-and-greet last July, Tugade told DOTr suppliers to submit their concerns to new Assistant Sec.-spokeswoman Cherie Mercado. They and MRT-3 managers and employees did. No action, much less acknowledgment of their submissions. They wonder what the strict deadlines are for in the Code of Conduct for Public Officials and the Anti-Red Tape Law to reply to citizens' correspondence.

Exposed here in Aug. was an initial finding of cracked bogey frames in four coaches. Dangerous, since the wheels could collapse under the weight of passengers, and derail the train. Mercado denied the report, claiming that only two coaches had cracks.

They could not hide the truth for long. Days later BURI, MRT-3 general manager Roman Buenafe, and his aide Joel Erestain had to admit that not just two or four – but 12 coaches – had cracks so were pulled off for emergency repair.

At the same time they claimed to be fielding 60 coaches – or 20 trains – during peak hours. Simple arithmetic showed them to be lying. One train set consists of three coaches. Of the 73 original coaches, four are now total wrecks. If 12 of the remaining 69 coaches were pulled out for crack repairs, there would be only 57 coaches or 19 trains running – not 20. In fact, only 51 coaches or 17 trains remain operational, according to insiders.

A Mafia of high schoolmates has been masking the truth at MRT-3. They are Abaya, ex-LRT administrator Honorito Chaneco, Buenafe, Erestain, and Kintanar. The first two left in June, the second two in Oct, and the fifth is resigning tomorrow. They are leaving behind another school chum, Deo Leo Manalo, as general manager.