Jarius Bondoc | Philstar | April 25, 2017

Penalize the Chinese supplier for late deliveries of MRT-3's 48 new coaches, state auditors are ordering the Dept. of Transport. But China's Dalian Locomotive Corp. is blaming the delays on DOTr itself. As all 48 coaches remain idle, no one is answering for the multibillion-peso waste.

MRT-3 also shut down the other night, as an old train conked out. The breakdown stranded hundreds of thousands of commuters on Metro Manila's main avenue that already was snarled in traffic from heavy downpour. No one is answering too for the frequent MRT-3 snafus.

The Commission on Audit recently reported that Dalian flunked the contracted delivery schedules. The prototype, or fully functional model, was supposed to arrive in Aug. 2015, followed by three coaches every month from Oct. 2015 to Jan. 2017. While the first came on time, it had no motors, thus inoperable. Nine months followed with only one, two, or no deliveries. Only in Aug. 2016 to Jan. 2017 did the coaches arrive bunched up.

None had the on-board signaling for safe operation. Only in late 2016 did Dalian fit nine of the 48 units with Automatic Train Protectors. None too were test-run for 5,000 km for safety, reliability, and durability. That should have been done at the Dalian factory at different speeds, slopes, curves, and weather and emergency conditions. If at all, it was done on MRT-3 rails, thus further deteriorating them.

The COA wants DOTr to "impose liquidated damages for the supplier's failure to satisfactorily deliver any of the goods and/or perform the services within the period specified in the contract using the applicable rate specified therein."

The contract is for P3.8 billion, with Dalian initially paid 15 percent (P559 million) and now collecting 70 percent (P2.63 billion) more.

COA did not specify a penalty amount. The Procurement Reform Act requires all contracts to include liquidated damages for breaches. Minimum should be "one-tenth of one percent (0.001) of the cost of the unperformed portion for every day of delay." Once the cumulative amount of damages reaches 10 percent of the price, the agency may rescind the contract, and file for other civil and criminal sanctions.

Dalian claims that DOTr alterations of specifications delayed the work. The agency ordered the MRT-3's original signaling supplier Bombardier of Canada to upgrade its software in late 2015. Then it hired a new maintenance firm totally to replace the system by 2018. Dalian says the DOTr made it wait for final decisions. Dalian high execs visited DOTr days ago to argue before present administrators its beef against the past ones.

COA gave DOTr five days to reply to its order, but the latter is still compiling documents. It's unclear if Dalian and/or past officials would be punished. The memo was addressed to Sec. Arthur Tugade, Usec. for Railways Cesar Chavez, MRT-3 general manager Rodolfo Garcia, and MRT-3 expansion project manager (2013-2016) Deo Leo Manalo.

Manalo, now MRT-3 operations-in-charge, says 33 of 48 coaches so far have been equipped with ATP signaling. But those have yet to be test-run for another 1,500 km on MRT-3's dilapidated tracks.

The 48 new units won't be running till mid-2018, COA says. Manalo is rushing at least six coaches (two train sets) to be interspersed by May with the 60 or so old coaches (20 trains).

Manalo points to axle bearing defect for Monday night's stoppage. Passengers reported smoke from the motor below the flooring, forcing the driver to brake and unload. Manalo says the bearing was greased only last week, based on maintenance logs, so they are looking into other causes.

Bearings must be replaced in periodic maintenance, whether or not worn out, insiders aver. The private contractor is the same as the broker for Dalian.

Rep. Jericho Nograles has been scrutinizing the MRT-3 upkeep and inoperative trains in the House committee on transportation. In one hearing the contractor, of another P3.8 billion, admitted to not having the multimillion-peso equipment to restore worn-out bogey wheels, and so has been jobbing out to small machine shops in Bulacan.