THE Department of Transportation on Tuesday filed a plunder complaint against nine former Cabinet members of former President Benigno Aquino III before the Office of the Ombudsman over an anomalous maintenance contract worth P3.8 billion for the Metro Rail Transit 3 in December 2015.
Meanwhile, President Rodrigo Duterte rejected some lawmakers’ calls for him to sack Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade amid the MRT’s problems.
“I will not do that. I have full trust on Tugade that he can correct the mistakes there and fix it. I would be resisting the call and if you want to put it in, I will decline the request,” the President said in an ambush interview in Pasay City.
Charged with plunder were former Transportation secretary Emilio Joseph Abaya, former Interior and Local Government secretary Mar Roxas, former Budget secretary Florencio Abad, former Finance secretary Cesar Purisima, former Energy secretary Jericho Petilla, former Science and Technology secretary Mario Montejo, former Defense secretary Voltaire Gazmin, former Public Works secretary Rogelio Singson and former Socioeconomic Planning secretary Arsenio Balisacan.
Former Transportation undersecretaries Edwin Lopez, Rene Limcaoco and Catherine Gonzales, ex-MRT3 general manager Roman Buenafe, former bids and awards committee head and members, and Mario dela Cruz of Busan Universal Rail Inc. were included in the plunder complaint.
“Our theory is that, they [Cabinet officials] were informed about the project. There were reports that they were aware of some provisions that needed to be fixed, [but they did not do anything],” said Reiner Yebra, undersecretary for legal affairs and procurement.
“They approved the contract. That’s… the basis of our filing,” he added.
He said Aquino was spared from the complaint since he was not a member of the Government Procurement Policy Board.
He said Abaya and Roxas were the principal conspirators of the highly disadvantageous contract.
“We [only] actually responded to public clamor for accountability of those responsible for the poor condition of our train system,” he said.
DoTr Assistant Secretary for Legal Affairs Giovanni Lopez said the plunder complaint is backed by strong evidence to pin down the accused of pocketing public funds and enriching themselves.
“The contract was such a big conspiracy for the past eight months from the start of the contract with the Busan Universal Rail Inc.,” he said, adding Abaya and Roxas used the MRT 3 maintenance contract as a “fund-raiser.”
The Palace welcomed the filing of graft and plunder charges against the former Aquino Cabinet members, saying MRT 3 was still “crying for solutions” to problems they created.
Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque, who earlier defended Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade against calls for him to resign, said they were taking positive steps to improve service on the commuter train system.
“I think Secretary Tugade knows that we’re looking up to him for a solution,” Roque said in a Palace news briefing.
“We’re crying for a solution and we’re crying for a quick solution and I’m sure that Secretary Tugade and [Undersecretary Cesar] Chavez are really taking all the necessary steps,” he added.
Following the government’s decision to rescind its contracts with maintenance provider Busan Universal Railways Inc., Roque said that the current administration is working to “procure a reliable maintenance contractor” and build new rails, buy new train cars and signaling systems for the MRT.
“And meanwhile, there is a safety audit being conducted to ensure the safety of the riding public,” he added.
Roque said the ax should fall hard against officials involved in the procurement of the alleged anomalous MRT 3 maintenance service contract, blaming previous Cabinet officials for the various woes affecting the mass transport system. With Maricel V. Cruz
“We must stress that the great suffering of the riding public as a result of the failure to deliver on the responsibilities of public office, such as the case of the current state of the MRT 3 system, carries consequences and that those accountable will be held liable,” the Palace spokesman said.
Calling the MRT fiasco as the “height of injustice,” Roque said Filipino taxpayers were made to pay P54 million per month, on top of a P1.8 billion fixed fee for other services “to an unworthy contractor incapable of delivering the reliable system.”
Senator Grace Poe on Tuesday expressed hope the Ombudsman would act swiftly on the plunder complaint filed against former Cabinet members over the alleged anomalous MRT 3 maintenance deal.
“We expect that the Ombudsman will act expeditiously on the case, because every day of delay means distress and hardship for our riding public,” Poe, who chairs the Senate public services committee, said in a statement.
“We can only achieve justice for our people by making those responsible for their woes accountable,” Poe added.
“I believe the DOTr has exercised due diligence in reviewing the issues with BURI, strong enough to come up with a case against those involved,” she said.
She said the Senate investigation has already revealed that the P3.8-million MRT maintenance contract with BURI was indeed “anomalous and disadvantageous to the public.”
She noted that the poor maintenance service and the daily technical glitches have resulted in fewer functioning coaches and long passenger queues.
“There were individuals who appeared to have favored an incompetent maintenance provider and in mismanaging the train system. They should see this as an opportunity for them to clear their names,” Poe said.
Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon, said he was confident that Roxas and the other respondents would be vindicated.
“I have confidence in the integrity of these people,” said Drilon, a stalwart of the Liberal Party to which Roxas and Abaya also belong.
“One of the elements of the crime [of plunder] is that you personally profited to the extent of P50 million. I don’t even think that there is an allegation that these respondents profited personally…I will repeat, it’s been one and a half year [since the new administration came to power and], they’re still looking for scapegoats. It’s about time they look for solutions,” Drilon said.
“Up to this point, the MRT is still in such a state that it does not serve the purpose for which it was formed,” he added.
In an interview with GMA News, Chavez said the government would lose P200 million a month if it gave in to public pressure to shut down the MRT for proper maintenance after a series of accidents.
“Our average monthly income is P236 million,” Chavez said.
The government has been paying the Metro Rail Transit Corp. an average P2.7 billion per year in equity rental payments under the build-lease-transfer agreement signed in 1997.
Under the 25-year BLT agreement, the government is in charge of the daily operations of the MRT 3 while the MRTC was in charge of its construction. The government pays the private consortium a return of investment in the form of equity rental payments.
This year, the government has set aside P4.8 billion in subsidy for the maintenance and operations of the MRT-3.
A party-list lawmaker on Tuesday blamed corruption for the MRT 3 mess.
Puwersa ng Bayaning Atleta party-list Rep. Jericho Nograles today said a”payola” and commission system has allowed the existence of patently illegal and invalid government deals like the P3.8 billion MRT 3 maintenance contract that was given in favor of BURI without any bidding.
Nograles said the Ombudsman should start looking at the intricate system of corruption that enabled BURI to corner the MRT 3 maintenance service contract despite glaring discrepancies on the contract itself and BURI’s sloppy services.
Since the Commission on Audit (has already declared that the MRT 3-BURI contract is non-existent and therefore invalid, Nograles said the millions of pesos in public funds that were already paid to BURI should be returned to the government. With Maricel V. Cruz