Jarius Bondoc  | Philstar | December 12, 2016

In cartoons lightning invariably strikes the liar. Sadly at the MRT-3 it’s train riders who get struck when the managers and contractors lie.

Last weekend the rail maintenance outfit claimed, among others, ably to be fixing the 13 stations' elevators and escalators. Thunder must have roared from that lie. Tuesday thousands of passengers were rushing to buy tickets and board at the end station in Manila when the escalator suddenly conked out. People fell on each other down the sharp metal steps, injuring ten.

Hours later at the other end of the rail line 17 km away, the general manager had himself televised as if on top of the situation. Supposedly he already had dispatched a medical team to the accident scene. That ballyhooed medical team consisted of two nurses from two different mid-stations and a third from his end; the three had to wait to get onto other trains, which were delayed by two subsequent track and electricity breakdowns. In fact there is no trained crisis manager in charge of accidents at MRT-3. There’s only an old ex-coach driver who’s occupying the post by virtue of age and employee union officership.

Fortunately the injuries were not serious to require long hospital stays. Cuts and bruises were minor, and the inconvenienced victims were sent home after x-ray examination. Still it could all have been avoided had the MRT-3 upkeep contractor Busan Universal Rail Inc. (BURI), GM Deo Manalo, and their transport department superiors been on the ball.

The Commission on Audit in fact anticipated the accident. In a memo last Nov. 3 to Transport Sec. Arthur Tugade the agency already reported the sorry state of the conveyance facilities.

“"Operations in Jan.-June 2016 sustained 31 service interruptions, while 78% of the elevators and 57% of the escalators were defective," the COA said. That was in spite of BURI [drawing] a monthly fee of P54.5 million. The breakdowns distressed and inconvenienced the riding public, the COA added.

The COA reminded Tugade, then four months in office, of the DOTr's mission "to provide efficient, effective, secured transportation systems that are globally competitive, compliant with international standards, and responsive to the changing times."

BURI has a (questionably) negotiated contract of P3,809,128,888 for three years starting last. Jan., COA reminded. Two billion pesos of that is for maintenance. "The expected outputs of BURI are: (a) maintain MRT-3 as a safe, reliable, high quality, efficient rail system, tailored to the needs of the customers and commuters."

If the MRT-3 cannot convey passengers up and down the busted elevators and escalators, then more so from station to station of the 17-km rail. The defective conveyances "adversely affected the passengers, especially the elderly, pregnant, and handicapped," COA lamented.

The COA advised Tugade to get the government money's worth from BURI's fees. "We recommend that DOTr require BURI to explain why, in spite of the monthly maintenance fee of P54.5 million, MRT-3 still sustains frequent service interruptions and breakdowns of the conveyance facilities."

Terminate BURI's contract if warranted, COA concluded.