Christine F. Herrera | Manila Standard | March 23, 2017

LAWMAKERS on Wednesday vowed to hold former Transportation secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya and others liable for plunder for awarding a P3.81-billion Metro Rail Transit 3 contract to a service provider with no capacity for keeping 43 aging coaches running safely, and whose only capital was "empty promises."

Abaya and his men could also be indicted for buying 48 China-made coaches that were incompatible with the MRT 3 system, said Pwersa ng Bayaning Atleta or PBA Rep. Jericho Nograles.

"Former and incumbent MRT 3 and DOTr officials could be charged for plunder and grave abuse of authority for their role in this onerous service contract with Busan Rail Inc. [BURI]," Nograles told a hearing conducted by the House committee on transportation, chaired by Catanduanes Rep. Cesar Sarmiento.

During the hearing, Sarmiento said the panel would dig deeper.

Nograles expressed shock after he learned that Abaya awarded the service contract to BURI, which outsourced the job to a "small-time" machine shop in Bulacan that can only do grinding and truing of rail wheels manually.

"How can they have proper maintenance of the MRT 3 system if they do not even have a wheel lathe machine? We will pay them P3.81 billion with their spit as their only capital?" Nograles said.

Abaya should have disqualified BURI outright as it did not even have spare parts to show it can maintain the MRT 3 system, he said.

Questioned by Nograles, BURI officials admitted that they did not have the right equipment and the spare parts needed to conduct critical maintenance work to ensure the safety and the efficiency of the MRT 3. They also admitted that much of its primary commitments under the P3.81-billion service contract had not been delivered.

Nograles said BURI initially denied that it had subcontracted work to a machine shop in Bulacan to do the truing work for 16 pieces of rail wheels, instead of using the prescribed wheel lathe machine, until the lawmaker confronted them with a copy of the shop’s delivery receipt.

"They lied when I confronted them about this outsourcing.... At first they claimed that they are the ones manually grinding and truing the rail wheels but they suddenly remembered outsourcing this to a Bulacan machine shop when I showed them the delivery receipt. It was obvious that they were trying to fool us," Nograles told the panel.

"BURI should have been disqualified outright by... Abaya because it did not have the right tools to conduct maintenance work for a major rail system like the MRT3," Nograles said.

Apart from being ill-equipped, Nograles said BURI has not complied with its commitment to overhaul the 43 MRT 3 coaches, which were currently inoperable and completely replace its signaling system within 24 months since securing the contract in January 2015.

"It's been more than 24 months but BURI has not overhauled a single coach and the MRT 3 signaling system remains problematic," Nograles said.