February 25, 2018, 10:12 am
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Raps filed vs DOTC, BURI officials

CRIMINAL complaints were filed before the Office of the Ombudsman yesterday against former officials of the Department of Transportation and Communications (now Department of Transportation) and executives of Joint Venture of Busan in connection with alleged irregularities in the negotiation, bidding, and award of the P3.81-billion maintenance contract for the Metro Rail Transit Line 3 (MRT-3) in 2016.

Complainants Bayan secretary general Renato Reyes Jr., Bayan Muna chairperson Neri Colmenares, Train Riders Network members Angelo Suarez, Maria Donna Miranda and James Relativo, and AGHAM secretary general Maria Finesa Cosico sought indictments against the respondents for multiple counts of violations of RA 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act and RA 9184 or the Government Procurement Reform Act.  

Named respondents from the DOTC were former Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya, former MRT-3 Project Management Office general manager Roman Buenafe, former undersecretary for planning Rene Limcaoco, Negotiating Team vice head Catherine Gonzales, and former undersecretary for operations Edwin Lopez.

Likewise included were DOTC Bids and Awards Committee members Ofelia Astrera, Charissa Opulencia, Oscar Bongon, Jose Rodante Sabayle, and Maria Cecilia Natividad.

Implicated as private respondents were Eldonn Ferdinand Uy of Edison Development and Construction, Elizabeth Velasco of Tramat Mercantile Inc., Belinda Ong Tan of TMICorp Inc., and Chae-Gue Shim of Castan Corp.

It was the second legal action lodged against the same respondents in as many months after the DOTr filed a similar complaint last October 23 also alleging anomalies in the MRT-3 contract.

The complainants asked the Ombudsman to investigate the deal for suspected overprice, noting that the original approved budget for the contract was only P2.248 billion but ballooned to P3.809 billion when it was awarded to the Joint Venture of Busan on January 7, 2016.

They questioned the basis for the increase of the service cost to almost double of the original contract, the lack of public bidding, and the decision to add the overhauling of 43 light rail vehicles (LRVs) and the replacement of the signaling system as “riders” to the maintenance contract.

“In this case, the general overhauling is not an unexpected occurrence that requires immediate action. It is a scheduled maintenance service…that can be, and should be bid out in a competitive public bidding,” the complainants said.

Even with the new and more expensive maintenance contract, they noted that a technical report by the Commission on Audit recorded higher incidence of train removals (2,594 in 2015 and 2,619 in 2016), service interruptions (55 in 2015 and 63 in 2016), and passenger unloading (417 in 2015 and 586 in 2016).

“Had the public respondents performed their mandate religiously during the negotiated procurement and diligently checked the capability and eligibility of the Joint Venture of Busan…, the increase in train removals, service interruptions, and passenger unloading would not have happened,” they added.

TUGADE DEFENDED

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade will not be fired for the recent series of mishaps at the MRT because he enjoys President Duterte’s confidence.

“The President has said he will back up Secretary Tugade in whatever he may need to effect immediate reform of the MRT,” he said.

Last Thursday, several coaches were detached from a northbound MRT-3 train between Ayala and Buendia stations.

This forced commuters to walk on the tracks.

The Department of Transportation (DOTr) earlier pointed to the possibility of sabotage, after its initial investigation revealed that the “black box” of the decoupled coach went missing.

Roque said Tugade has been doing his best to address the problems with the MRT, which were inherited from the previous administration.

“We are not washing our hands off responsibility. We accept the challenge in the MRT and the President himself had apologized over the breakdown of the MRT. However, we know that the problem had been there during the previous administration. The President has taken steps to ease the suffering of the passengers,” he said.

He added that the public should give the President a chance to “rectify the many problems that his administration inherited from the past dispensation.”

MRT Holdings chairman Robert John Sobrepeña said the series of MRT breakdowns is due to the government’s lack of management expertise.

Duterte on Saturday apologized to MRT commuters following the decoupling of coaches during morning rush hours last week.

Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II believes there is enough reason to look into the angle of sabotage in the train decoupling last week.

“It is very remote that decoupling of coaches would happen accidentally…If there is no human intervention, that is very, very hard to happen,” he said.

He said this is one of the reasons he ordered the NBI to start probing the incident.

For his part, NBI Director Dante Gierran said he has already formed a team of investigators to look into the decoupling of the MRT coaches. – With Jocelyn Montemayor and Gerard Naval
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