PRESIDENT Benigno Aquino III on Friday ignored mounting calls for him to fire Transportation and Communications Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya for his inability to improve the deteriorating service of Metro Manila’s commuter train system and other transport woes that the public endures daily.
As the President defended Abaya in Davao and blamed other parties for the troubles at the Metro Rail Transit system, the commuter train service stopped running twice—just as a new maintenance service provider was taking over.
On the same day, Abaya announced that the Korean-Filipino consortium led by Busan Transportation Corp. had signed a three-year maintenance contract with the government to provide maintenance services to the MRT despite reports that it had backed out of the negotiated deal amid concerns that it would become entangled in a lawsuit filed by a German-Filipino consortium, Schunk Bahn-und Industrietechnik GmbH-Comm Builders and Technology Phils. Corp. or SBI-CB&T, against Transport officials, including Abaya before the Sandiganbayan.
“With the operator of the Busan railway network in South Korea sharing their technical expertise, the riding public can expect an increase in the number of running trains and the efficiency of operations,” Abaya said in a statement Friday morning.
But train service was interrupted twice Friday, once by a blackout in the morning, and another later in the day, when a train at the Guadalupe station suffered a technical glitch.
MRT-3 general manager Roman Buenafe said the timing suggested sabotage might be the cause and said they were not ruling out the possibility that SBI-CB&T—which still controlled the signaling system—could be behind it.
“I wonder why these things happened. We visited every signaling station and quizzed the power status of these facilities,” Buenafe said in an interview on radio dzBB.
“What I can say is that the [timing] of the technical glitches is questionable now that the newly signed maintenance contract has been signed today and then these things suddenly happened,” Buenafe added.
On Wednesday, the bids and awards committee of the Department of Transportation and Communications tried to extend the one year contract of SBI-CB&T by a month, but the German-Filipino contractor declined, saying they had learned their lesson when the government failed to pay them in full, paying them only P28.66 million out of the total P131.28 billion owed them. The company has taken DoTC officials to court over the unpaid amount.
Despite the MRT mess, Aquino said Abaya would stay on as Transport secretary.
At the inauguration of a power plant in Davao City, Aquino blamed the maintenance woes on the previous contractor which had demanded more money and refused to give a service warranty.
“That’s where the DoTC started to look for other maintenance providers who could provide the service, at the very least, who would give us the service warranty,” Aquino said.
He said the Busan contract would rehabilitate the system and improve service.
Aquino also defended Abaya, saying “there was never a moment that MRT-3 did not have a maintenance provider.”
The P4.25-billion Busan maintenance contract has been criticized because the DoTC did not go through a public bidding as required by law. Rather, the department used the existence of an “emergency situation” to justify using a negotiated contract.
Friday’s signaling problem at the Guadalupe station led MRT officials to operate only half the line, carrying passengers only from Shaw Boulevard station in Mandaluyong to North Avenue station in Quezon City.
The railway service operation was also suspended during the morning rush hour because of a power loss, forcing passengers to get off the trains and take a buses instead.
Two militant lawmakers repeated their calls for Abaya to resign amid the mess at the MRT.
Bayan Muna Reps. Neri Colmenares and Carlos Isagani Zarate said that President Aquino should no longer wait for the MRT to become a “run-away coffin” before he removes Abaya from his post.
“Despite the illegal fare hike at the start of 2015, the MRT further deteriorated under Abaya’s watch, with almost daily rail problems and glitches,” Colmenares, a House deputy minority leader, said.
Colmenares said the mass transport system has never improved since Abaya, a close ally of President Aquino, was appointed to the Transportation portfolio in 2012.
Zarate cited several onerous contracts entered by Abaya that are adverse to the interests of the people, like the privatization contracts of LRT1 and Cavitex, which were loaded with sovereign guarantees and the PH Trams maintenance contract for MRT 3 “rewarded” to Abaya’s compadre Marlo de la Cruz, despite his incompetence.
“From worse to worst; from better to bitter, the MRT is now emblematic of the failing governance of the exiting Aquino administration,” Zarate said.
The militant youth group Anakbayan said Abaya should be jailed over mass transport woes amid calls for his removal from office.
Vencer Crisostomo, Anakbayan national chairperson, said in a statement that the deteriorating state of mass transport under Abaya and President Aquino’s government shows that their rule is “corrupt, inept and criminal.”
“All those responsible for the transport woes, including Abaya, Aquino and even former Secretary Mar Roxas should be held accountable. They are liable for graft and corruption, plunder and other crimes. We support the calls to immediately remove kabarkada Abaya from office, this should have in fact been done a long time ago. More than removal from office, the public deserves justice: Abaya should be jailed,” Crisostomo said.
Crisostomo also said all deals and contracts which the Aquino government entered into should be suspended, reviewed and investigated. He also called for a rollback on train fare hikes implemented under Abaya.
Also on Friday, the labor group Partido Manggagawa slammed the Aquino administration for blaming other parties for the problems at the MRT, and said it was just as guilty by tapping the private sector to build and run public transport systems.With Joel E. Zurbano, Maricel V. Cruz and Rio N. Araja
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