Jarius Bondoc | Philstar | March 31, 2017

"The MRT-3 contractor has admitted to be unequipped to properly maintain the commuter trains and tracks." That was the conclusion of Rep. Jericho Nograles after grilling Busan Universal Rail Inc. in last week's congressional hearing. "BURI has not delivered most of its primary commitments despite a whopping P3.81-billion service contract for three years," he said later in an official release. "For that, past and present officials of the Dept. of Transportation and the MRT-3 could be charged with plunder."

Nograles, of Puwersa ng Bayaning Atleta, threw a series of questions to BURI and DOTr reps during the hearing. BURI reps, he said, practically admitted "they did not have the right equipment and spare parts to conduct critical maintenance to ensure the safety and efficiency of MRT-3."

Nograles said BURI was evasive, giving him the impression of "trying to cover up its incompetence." At one point the company kept denying his assertion that it had subcontracted a small-time machine shop in Bulacan to conduct truing of 16 metal train wheels. Truing, or restoring to circular the worn-out metal, should be done using the wheel lathe machine, as prescribed in the contract. Only when Nograles showed a copy of the Bulacan shop's delivery receipt did BURI admit to not having the multimillion-peso equipment that was a prerequisite to qualify for the contracting in 2015.

"They lied when I confronted them about this outsourcing of truing of the MRT-3's rail wheels," Nograles said. "At first they claimed to be doing the work themselves, and did not subcontract any machine shop in Bulacan. But when I showed them the delivery receipt, they suddenly remembered. Halatang niloloko tayo ng mga ito (It's obvious they're pulling our leg)."

Periodic wheel truing is necessary for safe and smooth rides. Each of MRT-3's 72 coaches has 16 wheels. There is record of truing of only 16 wheels, or good for one coach. Whether the 71 other coaches have been trued is yet unclear.

Nograles said that BURI should have been disqualified outright by past transport and MRT-3 officials for lacking the prescribed maintenance tools. BURI was contracted in 2015 by then-secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya and then-general manager Roman Buenafe. Its contract is for three years, starting January 2016.

"How can they conduct 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 saliva as their only capital?" Nograles said.

Apart from being ill-equipped, BURI has not begun to overhaul 43 of the rundown coaches as stated in the contract, Nograles said.

Another unfulfilled contract stipulation is the upgrading of the signaling on the 72 old coaches from the Czech Republic and the 48 new ones from China. The latter 48 remain inoperable for incompatibility with the system, said Nograles who, with House transport committee chairman Cesar Sarmiento (Catanduanes) has been leading the charge against sloppy commuter train upkeep.

"This maintenance contract and the purchase of incompatible MRT-3 coaches could lead to the indictment of several officials," Nograles said.