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For the MRT-3 mess, Roxas and Abaya should be in jail by now

OR perhaps in Dutertespeak, Aquino 3rd’s transport secretary, Emilio Abaya, and his predecessor, Mar Roxas, should have been lynched at the highest point of the MRT-3 line along Edsa for having made life a daily hell for hundreds of thousands of commuters with their handling of that mass transport system.

How Abaya and Roxas messed up the Metro Rail Transit (MRT-3) line is probably the most documented case of incompetence—or corruption—in running a government enterprise. If the Ombudsman weren’t Conchita Carpio-Morales, who was so close to Aquino that he chose her to swear him to office as President, I’m sure Roxas and Abaya would be in jail by now.

Philippine Star columnist Jarius Bondoc has practically made a crusade of exposing the corruption at the MRT-3, having well-placed insiders and a witness to all the shenanigans there.

The Yellow gang also made a big mistake of attempting to make the mild-mannered MRT-3’s general manager Al Vitangcol—now a columnist in this paper—a fall guy in another alleged case of corruption, that the lawyer and engineer fought back, and has apparently made it his crusade to expose the past regime’s corruption at MRT-3.

Consider the facts and tell me if I am exaggerating.

For 10 years after MRT-3 started operations, the Japanese firm Sumitomo Corp. maintained the system under a contract with Metro Rail Transit Corp. (MRTC), the MRT-3’s private builder and operator. The train was so efficient that Sumitomo had boasted about MRT-3 in its sales pitch to bid for mass-transit projects around the world.

Renewed 4 times
When Sumitomo’s contract expired in July 2010, it was given six-month maintenance contracts only. This placed Sumitomo in a bind as it required a longer time frame so it could estimate how much of maintenance inventory it needed to keep, which accounted for half of its$1 million monthly contract. Sumitomo repeatedly wrote to the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) to request a bidding for a longer-term contract. DOTC didn’t reply at all.

The top Yellow leaders Roxas and Abaya (inset) responsible for the MRT-3 mess.

However, on October 4, 2012, or just two weeks before Sumitomo’s fourth six-month contract was to have ended on October 19, the DOTC said it would no longer renew it, and that a 3-year contract would be bidded out.

It scheduled a bidding in two weeks. Sumitomo calculated that this was such an impossible short time frame that it backed out of the auction. That was the start of the MRT-3’s deterioration.

Note that all this time, during which the bidding could have been announced way in advance so that bidders would have had time to prepare for it, the DOTC head was Roxas, who ran for the presidency in 2016 and landed—amazingly—second.

However, in August 2012, Interior Secretary Jesse Robredo was killed in an airplane crash and Aquino appointed Roxas to replace him. Roxas assumed the post—strangely—only two months later, on October 19. It was Abaya, appointed to replace Roxas, who signed the maintenance contract with an obscure firm PH Trams-CB&T on the day he assumed office as DOTC head.

This two-month-old company, capitalized at only P2.5 million, or less than one percent of the P300 million cost of the maintenance contract, won the bidding that Roxas had called just two weeks before. One of its six investors was known in Pangasinan province as a Liberal Party financial supporter – Wilson de Vera. He had been accused by the Czech ambassador of attempting in July 2012 to extort $30 million from the Czech company Inekon in exchange for winning the contract to supply MRT-3 with train cars.

He just signed it
Abaya, in a hearing the other day at the Senate, claimed he didn’t know about the firm’s background, and that it was Roxas who made all the decisions over the maintenance contract and the bidding for it. He said he just presumed that nothing was wrong with the contract so he signed the documents when he took over as head of the DOTC on October 19.

Why did Roxas drag his feet for a month and a half to leave his DOTC post only October 19, even if Aquino had appointed him to the DILG post on August 31? Is this a huge coincidence that October 19 was the day PH Trams signed the contract with MRT-3?

Am I too suspicious to speculate that Roxas was a segurista, that he wanted to make sure that his two-year plot to get a favored contractor in place before he stepped down pushed through? Was it even a better scenario for him that his apparently witless lackey, Abaya, and Vitangcol signed the contract papers and, therefore, would be accountable if the scheme was exposed?

What these morons did not realize, though, was that Sumitomo’s maintenance contract was not as profitable as it seemed. Half of the contract price was the cost of inventory for the MRT-3’s parts, which were expensive because many of them were precision-engineered and of the highest-quality steel.

What these idiots also did not know was that Sumitomo was satisfied with getting the smallest business margins from the contract, as it was more concerned about its reputation so it could get more and bigger projects all over the world. Its MRT-3 maintenance contract barely made a profit, but Sumitomo used the rail’s efficiency as proof of its expertise in light rail building and maintenance.

Indeed, Sumitomo has built a reputation as one of the best light-rail builders in the world, with its latest projects being the $500 million contract signed in 2012 to build Vietnam’s first urban rail system, and a $398 million supply contract for Chicago Metra’s commuter rail cars.

Scrimping on expenses
Scrimping on expenses as much as it could to make the contract hugely profitable, PH Trams didn’t build up a stock of spare parts and resorted to cannibalizing its other cars for the required parts. The result: the number of cars running at present stands at 14 at the most, down sharply from 70 when Sumitomo was running MRT-3.

Without a stock of replacements, the trains’ steel wheels got to be so squeezed into ovals so that these had to run slower, or else they would be derailed. With maintenance becoming so messed up, MRT-3 trains made mid-station stops, or had to run so slowly.

As a result there has been so much outrage over MRT-3’s breakdowns and overcrowding of its coaches. On December 2015, Abaya awarded after a ‘ simplified bidding” a new P4 billion contract to a consortium led by the Korean Busan Transportation Corp. As happened during Roxas’ time, Abaya claimed there was an emergency situation so that the “winner” of the bid was determined through negotiations. The contract is for three years, i.e., until 2018.

This consortium’s lawyer is one Luis Carpio, Jr., the brother of Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales.

Is that what you’d call bullet-proofing a contract?