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‘Abaya must resign over MRT debacle’

AN opposition spokesman called on Transportation Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya to resign Sunday, deriding him as the poster child for the Aquino administration’s incompetence and insensitivity.

“The best advice we can give is for you to resign, Secretary Abaya, and leave the problem to competent people who are better-suited to the job,” said Rico Quicho, a spokesman for Vice President Jejomar Binay, in response to Abaya’s challenge to his critics to offer solutions to the problems at the MRT, including accidents and stalled trains, and long queues in deteriorating stations.

Looking back. At least 19 people were injured after a defective MRT coach crashed through the Taft Avenue station in this file photo taken on August 13 last year.
Quicho also ridiculed Abaya’s latest plan to hire four different companies on six-month renewable contracts to handle different parts of the MRT maintenance.

“You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to realize that you don’t give short-term contracts to four different entities to handle a complex process,” Quicho said.

A consumer group, the Train Riders Network, supported the call for Abaya to resign.

“As early as last year, we have already called for the resignation of Secretary Abaya as he is not able to address the problems faced by commuters,” said James Relativo, a spokesman for the group.

“He has proven himself to be incompetent in improving the mass rail systems in Metro Manila. If he does not have the delicadeza to resign, the President Aquino should take action and fire him.”

Quicho also took a jab at Abaya’s predecessor at the Transporation Department, Secretary Manuel Roxas II, saying that “no amount of excessive foreign schooling can guarantee competence in public service.”

Quicho said the correct action is to give the maintenance contract back to Sumitomo and Mitsubishi, who have proven their ability to do the job.

“No search for the cheapest company, or one owned by party mates from LP [Liberal Party]. Just choose the proven and competent company. And do it fast,” Quicho said.

 He noted that accidents have happened, and just recently, two trains stopped during rush hour.

“Do we wait for something worse to happen?” he said.

Quicho also urged Abaya to explain and apologize to the thousands of MRT commuters, instead of using precious time that may cost lives bashing the Vice President for the facts he raised in his True State of the Nation Address.

“It did not come as a shock when Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya was one of the first people to react to The True State of the Nation Address. It was clear that the Vice President’s words hit him where it hurts. We Tagalogs have a saying: The first to squawk is the one who laid the eggs,” said Quicho

Earlier, Abaya suggested that Binay was “blind to the realities” of the MRT and in no position to provide solutions to a problem he did not understand.

Quicho contested Abaya’s statement, however, and said the Vice President understands how long thousands of commuters have waited for Abaya to comprehend and offer solutions to the problem.

“This is the reality: Secretary Abaya has been in his position for two years, there are billions of pesos in the budget for MRT, there are thousands of employees under the department; but to this day, Secretary Abaya is still looking for people to pass the blame to and pointing fingers at people who he thinks should provide solutions to the problem,” Quicho said.

The Vice President said in his True SONA that the reason behind the MRT-3 mess is the cancellation of a successful, working contract. This paved the way for an unknown, untested newcomer, PH Trams, headed by Mario de la Cruz, a top Liberal Party fundraiser and Arturo Soriano, who is the uncle-in-law of former MRT general manager Al Vitangcol, and former IT consultant to Roxas.

“A leader, such as a Cabinet Secretary, should find creative solutions to any major obstacle, regardless of legal and other types of bottlenecks. Patience, determination, executive experience in looking for a reasonable compromise and having the interest of the public as a primordial concern will enable us to address huge problems such as the MRT-3 at the soonest,” Quicho said.

 He added: “Two things should be done now: specialized technicians expert at their assigned functions must be hired and trained immediately, and substantial stocks of spare parts not only for regular maintenance but also for unexpected breakdowns be purchased ASAP.”

Also on Sunday, Senator Francis Escudero said the P43.5 billion budget request of the DOTC should allow it to field more trains, end long queues at the MRT stations, and start the long-delayed line extenstion projects.

“The DOTC says it will speed up transfer time in stations from 10 minutes this year to five minutes next year. The first question that should be asked--is the waiting time at the MRT 10 minutes now” Escudero said.

The DOTC also vowed that overloading in MRT trains would go down to 157 percent from to 171 percent.

“Is this decrease in load factor doable? How many new trains are coming to ease congestion? Escudero said.

He said these pledges are among the MRT-related performance indicators the DOTC has spelled out in the national budget.

With these deliverables, the DOTC is asking Congress to appropriate P7.09 billion in MRT-related expenses broken down as follows: P1.96 billion for operation and maintenance; P1.5 billion for rehabilitation and capacity expansion; and P3.63 billion as subsidy for “mass transport.”

The latter would cover deficiencies in “settling prior and current years’ obligations for equity rental, maintenance fees and others obligations.

Escudero added that the Senate’s “strict scrutiny of rail-related appropriations” should extend to other lines, including the Philippine National Railways.

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