TRANSPORT Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya said Monday he will stay on the job despite mounting calls that he be fired, and a new audit report that showed his department failed to build comfort rooms in train stations, ports and airports under its P351-million “Kayo Ang Boss Ko” toilet improvement project despite the availability of funds.
“I’m in the DoTC not to be applauded, but to solve problems,” Abaya said in an ANC television interview, saying he would stay at the helm of the Department of Transportation and Communications [DoTC] and beside President Benigno Aquino III until the end of his term in June.
“I serve at President Aquino’s pleasure. I would not serve under any President except him. I’m here to help the President. If he tells me I have to go, I’ll go,” Abaya said.
Lawmakers and various groups have pressed Abaya to resign over his failure to improve deteriorating commuter train services and his approval of questionable maintenance contracts that critics said made matters worse.
“The DoTC is trying to show that we are slowly rectifying sins of the past. Consumers have the right to demand better services,” Abaya said, admitting that only 36 to 45 of the 73 MRT coaches are operational.
Despite public anger at the poor train and other public transport services, President Aquino last week said he would not fire Abaya, the president of his ruling Liberal Party.
A Commission on Audit report released the same week said the DoTC under Abaya failed to build comfort rooms for all of its attached agencies under the “Kayo ang Boss Ko” (KBK) toilet facilities improvement project, despite the availability of funds since 2012.
KBK, a foreign-assisted project, was named after a favorite motto used by President Aquino to suggest that the people are his ultimate boss.
The Jan. 7 audit report said the construction of new restrooms and the rehabilitation of old ones have been delayed, suspended or terminated or declared failed bids because of complicated contract details.
Because of this failure, women shared the same facilities with men in several train stations and Land Transportation Office branches, and persons with disabilities were left with no option but to use regular restrooms, the CoA said.
Also as a result, the transacting public had to bear the inconvenience of long toilet queues at the DoTC agencies, including the LTO, the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board, Manila International Airport Authority, Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines, Mactan Cebu International Airport Authority, Metro Rail Transit Line 3, Philippine Ports Authority, Cebu Ports Authority, Philippine National Railways and Light Rail Transit Authority.
“The government may be left with an unfinished or uncompleted toilet project as a result of terminated contracts which could not be used by the intended beneficiaries and ultimately caused wastage of government funds,” the audit report read.
The audit agency noted that the funds for the KBK project were originally earmarked for the improvement of airport facilities.
The P351.86-million toilet project ran into problems because of a DoTC policy to save money by favoring bulk orders, the CoA said.
The DoTC should have invited local contractors and suppliers to build toilets for regional or provincial offices, instead of choosing only one construction firm per region, it said.
“Most of the contracts for the civil works and goods should have been completed or delivered before end Dec. 31, 2014. However, the contracts for civil works were far behind target. Majority of the contractors for the civil works requested for a suspension or [had] already suspended [work] due to delays in the delivery of phenolic boards and granite counter tops,” CoA said.
CoA said the KBK budget should be remitted to the Bureau of Treasury, and contracts that were terminated will need to wait for another budget allocation because the original budget has already expired or been forfeited.
“Since the toilet project is a basic necessity of the riding and transacting public, the department should have considered the most practical and easy procurement scheme to avoid delays,” the audit agency said.
The political opposition continued to criticize Abaya Monday and urged him to take responsibility for his failings.
The leader of the independent minority bloc in the House, Leyte Rep. Martin Romualdez, slammed the government’s last-minute approach to addressing public transportation problems such as those besetting the MRT.
“President Aquino is close to finishing his six year term and yet we are still faced with the same old problem of maintenance of the aging MRT-3; that we have to resort to last-minute solutions to the problem,” Romualdez said.
House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr., referring to Abaya’s claim that the MRT services had been sabotaged, said the secretary owes it to the public how that came about under his watch.
Romualdez dismissed Abaya’s claim of sabotage as a lame excuse for his incompetence.
He urged the government to show compassion or malasakit because commuters and motorists have already suffered too much.
Bayan Muna party-list Rep. Carlos Zarate and Parañaque Rep. Gus Tambunting agreed that the government failed to protect the public interest by entering into a sweetheart deal.
“Abaya is now becoming more of a second rate, trying hard, copycat of his principal, the original ‘Boy Sisi’ Benigno Simeon Aquino, blaming others and raising the sabotage bogey is just a ploy of this duplicitous exiting Aquino administration to camouflage its sheer incompetence, as well as the anomalies that littered in the graft-ridden contracts,” Zarate said.
Zarate said Abaya’s presence in the Transportation Department was an act of sabotage itself.
Also on Monday, a leftist lawmaker urged former MRT-3 general manager Al Vitangcol to confess all he knew about the scandalous contracts that the government signed for the maintenance of the commuter train system.
“Despite his shortcomings as the former MRT-3 GM, it is not too late to redeem himself by exposing the ring leaders of the botched MRT-3 maintenance deal contracts. He is perhaps the most reliable source of information on the maintenance contract compared to… Abaya who relies on the President to evade accountability over MRT-3’s poor condition,” said Anakpawis Party-list Rep. Fernando Hicap.
Vitangcol, in a media forum last week said Abaya should be charged alongside him for approving questionable maintenance contracts for the commuter train system.
He added that some people whom he refused to name had tried to silence him after he had been hung out to dry.
“The one accountable for that contract is the one who awarded and signed that contract. If I’m the only one who signed the contract, then I’m accountable,” Vitangcol said.
Hicap said that the former MRT-3 manager should redeem himself by pinpointing the brains behind the questionable maintenance contracts.
“If Mr. Vitangcol truly wants a closure in this scandalous case that dragged his name and reputation, then by all means he should tell all.... He has nothing to lose but the tag of being the main culprit or operator of the anomalous MRT-3 maintenance deal contract,” he said. With Maricel V. Cruz
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