By Xianne Arcangel | GMA News | May 27, 2014

Metro Rail Transit Line 3 General Manager Al Vitangcol III confirmed Tuesday he was relieved by Transportaton Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya for his alleged involvement in anomalous transactions in connection with the MRT-3 expansion project.

But he also told lawmakers at the hearing of the House Committee on Good Government and Public Accountability on the alleged $30 million extortion attempt from a Czech company supplying MRT coaches that he resigned after he was informed of the relief order issued by Abaya because he “deemed it was best to do so.”

In an article published in The Philippine Star on Monday, columnist Jarius Bondoc alleged that Vitangcol awarded the P517-million contract for the maintenance of the MRT-3 expansion project to PH Trams, without public bidding. Bondoc said one of the incorporators of PH Trams is Arturo Soriano, uncle of Vitangcol's wife.

Abaya said he issued the relief order after being made aware during a radio interview of the relationship between Vitangcol and Soriano.

He said he checked with the undersecretaries of the Department of Transportation and Communications if Vitangcol declared his relationship with Soriano during the bidding process.

“All of them (undersecretaries) said there was clear responsibility [by Vitangcol] to declare such relationship but no declaration was made. After that, I released the order to make Light Rail Transit Authority (LRTA) administrator Honorito Chaneco as the officer-in-charge of MRT-3 and relieve Mr. Vitangcol of his responsibility,” he said.Not in PNoy’s ‘inner circle’

In an interview with reporters in Palawan on Tuesday, President Benigno Aquino III said Abaya had informed him on Monday night about the plan to remove Vitangcol.

"Bottom line, last night nag-text si Secretary Abaya. They discovered that he [Vitangcol] had a relative by affinity involved with a company that got the maintenance contract," he said.

"I'm sure Secretary Abaya... upon discovery of this fact, will take all the necessary steps to ferret out the truth," he added.

Asked if this will lead into a case before the Ombudsman, he said there is a need to collect evidence first.

"Ako gusto ko ring i-fast forward pero may proseso na kapag shinort cut mo masyado iyong proseso that in itself might result in a mistrial or getting the person off," he said.

Aquino likewise denied rumors that Vitangcol was among his "inner circle."

"He looks vaguely familiar but I don't really know him that well. Iyong I'll let my secretaries decide as to whom they want to work with," he said.


Earlier in the day, Vitangcol told GMA News TV's “News To Go” that he decided to resign from his post to avoid demoralization among his staff.

“Mahirap kasi sa head of agency na mawawala sa puwesto, babalik, mawawala sa pwesto, babalik. Nagkakaroon ng demoralisasyon ang mga tao at ito ay ayokong mangyari,” he said.

Vitangcol took a voluntary leave of absence last year when Czech Ambassador to the Philippines Josef Rychtar accused him of trying to extort $30 million from Czech firm Inekon in exchange for a contract to supply 48 new trains for the MRT expansion project. He returned to work weeks after.

He denied that there was conflict of interest as Soriano has already divested his interest from the company when the latter got the contract.

He explained that PH Trams was supposed to give an unsolicited proposal to MRT Corporation, which is a private firm, but this did not happen as the latter just wanted to extend the contract of Sumitomo Corporation. The DOTC then decided to conduct a bidding.

“Nung time na nalaman ko na magpapa-bid sila sa DOTC, I told Mr. Soriano to divest from the company dahil alam ko nga na ito ay government bidding na, so 'di pwede 'yun. I told him to divest which he readily complied with. 'Yung shares nya, binenta niya sa kapwa director sa PH Trams,” Vitangcol said.

“Nung time na nakuha nila (PH Trams) 'yung kontrata, wala na s'ya (Soriano) diyan. Pero since original incorporator siya, ang pangalan n'ya nandun sa SEC registration as an incorporator. Wala talagang nagbenepisyo diyan. Ang nagbenepisyo diyan ay 'yung existing miyembro ng kompanya,” he added.

He said it was not him who awarded the contract as all contracts of MRT3 pass through the Bids and Awards Committee or the DOTC negotiating team, where he was one of the seven members.

“Ito ay dumadaan sa masusing pagsisiyasat ng mga miyembro ng panel. Ako naman, bilang kami ang end-user, 'di ko talaga nakikita kung ano ang nasa dokumento. Ang nasa technical working group. Sila ang tumitingin niyan,” said Vitangcol.

Asked why was he accused of irregularities, Vitangcol said there could be some people who are eyeing his position.

“Ito kasing MRT3, talagang parang hotspot ito na kahit anong mangyari sa MRT3, marami agad na nakakakita at madami nakatingin. Alam natin may malalaking proyekto dito. Hindi ko alam, baka may mga tao na nag-aambisyon sa pwesto ko. Siguro mas maganda sila na lang umupo sa pwesto ko,” he said.

He added MRT3 has big contracts coming up such as the general overhauling of old coaches and the procurement of new trains.

“Hindi ito regular year. For example, next year, mag a-undergo ng general overhauling ang coaches natin na luma so malaking kontrata ito kung titingnan natin. Nataon na ang taong ito, bumili tayo ng bagong bagon. Sunod-sunod na malaking proyekto. This is not an ordinary year for MRT3,” he said.

Asked if he still has plans to return to government service, Vitangcol said he cannot say yet but for the meantime, he will try to catch some sleep.

“Matutulog ako kasi medyo matagal na kong di natutulog nang mahaba kasi ang operasyon natin 4 a.m. to 10 p.m., minomonitor natin lagi yan. Hopefully, I would have a good night rest,” he said. — with Amita Legaspi and Kimberly Jane Tan/KG/RSJ, GMA News