OWNERS of the Metro Rail Transit III said Friday the Office of the Ombudsman should investigate presidential candidate and former Transport Secretary Manuel Roxas II for anomalous procurement and maintenance service contracts signed by the Department of Transportation and Communications.
At a press briefing, Robert L. Sobrepeña, owner of MRT Holdings Inc., called for an investigation into Roxas’ liability for the government’s anomalous contracts with Philippine Trams Rail Management and Services Corp., after a Senate panel report implicated Transportation Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya and other officials for violating the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act.
“I think that’s something the courts should look into,” Sobrepeña told reporters when asked if the administration’s standard bearer should be charged for the anomalous MRT deals.
Reacting to the accusations, Roxas’ spokesperson Rep. Barry Gutierrez said Sobrepeña has no credibility, citing his involvement over questionable transactions in the past.
“Given his involvement in a long line of questionable transactions—from the original sin of the MRT contract, to CAP, to John Hay—I don’t think Robert Sobrepeña is the most credible person to listen to in this issue,” Gutierrez said in a statement.
“The record speaks for itself. Sobrepeña, as usual, speaks for his own financial interests.”
In a 45-page report, the Senate committee on public services led by Senator Grace Poe blamed the DoTC for giving “unwarranted benefits” to PH Trams and APT Global, and said it exercised “gross inexcusable negligence in allowing the deterioration of the MRT by not immediately hiring a competent maintenance provider.
The DoTC’s move, the report added, also neglected what could have been better maintenance providers and violated the terms of the government’s build-lease-transfer agreement with the Sobrepeña-led MRT Corp.
Welcoming the results of the Senate probe, Sobrepeña said that if Abaya was just two days on the job when he signed the maintenance contract between the DoTC and PH Trams, then that means the bulk of the vetting process for the transaction happened during the term of Abaya’s predecessor, Roxas.
Roxas was transferred to the Department of the Interior and Local Government following the death of Jesse Robredo on Aug. 18, 2012, but he assumed his new post only on Oct. 19 the day that the MRT maintenance contract with Sumitomo Corp. had expired.
That contract had originally expired in July 2010, but was renewed four times on a six-month basis, subject to DoTC approval.
Sobrepeña said MRT Holdings and other private companies submitted at least eight proposals to the government, the last four of which had been submitted directly to Abaya.
“Why didn’t the DoTC extend the contract with Sumitomo and resort to a new provider?” he said. “The big question is, why they awarded the contract to PH Trams, which was operating for only two months? Their inaction to all the proposals of the private sector is against the law,” Sobrepeña said.
“The fact that the DoTC awarded such a huge contract to a two-month-old company is a smoking gun. They could be charged with graft,” he added.
On Thursday, Abaya shrugged off the report of Poe’s committee, saying that all MRT contracts signed under his watch were clean and fair.
Abaya also slammed the Senate report for favoring Sobrepeña.
“We have no worries. Our conscience is clear and we strictly implemented the procurement law. So we are confident that the procurement was regular, the playing field leveled, and we did not favor anyone.”
“PH Trams formed a joint venture [JV] with Commbuilders CB&T. As JV, they presented the maintenance record and financial statements of the CB&T which the procurement law allows, thus they are qualified,” Abaya said.
Poe, who chaired a Senate public services subcommittee inquiry into the MRT’s services in 2014, decried the long queues at MRT stations and blamed Roxas for the commuter train system’s dilapidated state.
But Roxas said the problem was the “original sin” of the MRT contract, which guaranteed the MRT owner a 15 percent dollar-denominated return for 25 years, and said it was the Sobrepeña group that was taking advantage of the riding public.
“A 15 percent return, dollar-denominated, come hell or high water, that is anomalous,” Roxas said at a presidential forum in November.
In December 2015, the Ombudsman filed criminal charges and singled out former MRT-III general manager Al Vitangcol as sole respondent to the graft charges for the MRT maintenance deal.
The DoTC has signed a three-year maintenance contract with a Korean-Filipino consortium that began in January. In that same month, the MRT recorded five breakdowns.
On Friday, Roxas admitted that his greatest enemy in his quest for the presidency was the frustration of the people towards the Aquino administration’s failure to solve the problems plaguing the country.
“Our greatest enemy is the frustration of the people. We have a good story, a great performance, but our countrymen are frustrated still,” Roxas said in an interview over radio dzBB.
Roxas said that the administration isn’t numb over the enduring problems encountered by the people in their everyday lives, adding a promise that under a Roxas administration, they will try to solve the long-standing problems of public transportation in the country.
“If there is a lack, we will fill it, if there are wrong-doings, we would correct these. This is our program and what we’ve fought for the longest time,” Roxas said.
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