THE former general manager of the Metro Rail Transit-3 said Wednesday that Transportation Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya should be charged alongside him for approving questionable maintenance contracts for the commuter train system.
At a media forum, former MRT-3 chief Al Vitangcol also said 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 told reporters in Club Filipino.
“But if my signature was the only one in that contract—would that contract push through? No. But who were the other ones who approved, signed and awarded that contract? I was never the approving authority.”
Vitangcol also accused the Ombudsman of pursuing a selective justice, after 20 of the 21 respondents—including Abaya—were dropped from the case.
“The final approval came from Abaya,” Vitangcol said, noting that the Transportation secretary had signed the contract and renewed it several times. “That’s the big question mark here. Why [isn’t he] even implicated here? That’s for the Ombudsman to explain.”
The Ombudsman charged Vitangcol and five incorporators of the Philippine Trans Rail Management and Services Corp. with graft for an interim maintenance contract worth $1.15 million a month that was approved without public bidding on Oct. 20, 2012. The contract was renewed three times, until Sept. 4, 2013.
The Ombudsman cleared Abaya, who signed the maintenance contract, because he had only been days on the job at the Department of Transportation and Communications when the deal was approved.
Abaya, in his defense, earlier claimed he was not aware of irregularities in the contract, saying he merely relied on the recommendations of the MRT Bids and Awards Committee.
The Ombudsman had earlier said that the accused former MRT chief used his power and authority, as the MRT’s general manager, chief end-user, head of the negotiating team and BAC member all rolled into one, “to dictate the proponents invited for the preliminary negotiations” of the maintenance services, and “intentionally hid his relationship with [Andres] Soriano, [Vitangcol’s brother-in-law] which would have automatically disqualified PH Trams.”
At the forum, Vitangcol said his lawyer had met with certain unnamed “emissaries,” who told him to “stay silent and that things would be fixed.”
Instead, he was hung out to dry to silence critics of the administration.
“I’m the sacrificial lamb here,” he said.
Vitangcol added that he tried reaching his former bosses—former Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas II, who was his boss at the Senate, and Abaya, but to no avail.
“They never talked to me,” he sad. “I tried reaching out to them but they never talked to me.”
Vitangcol denied using his position to benefit PH Trans, even though his brother-in-law was on the company’s board.
He also said he had no authority or power to dictate who would be the maintenance service provider, since the DoTC had jurisdiction of this, with the MRT-3 management handling only local bids of up to P5 million.
“How can it be possible for me to direct the award when it came from a very long process?” Vitangcol said. “Does the Ombudsman’s decision mean that I talked to every person in DoTC just to approve that award?”
“In the first place, the responsibility for the procurement of the services for technical maintenance of MRT-3 is with the DoTC. It is not with the Office of the General Manager of MRT-3,” he said.
Vitangcol maintained he did nothing wrong in choosing a negotiated contract as “an emergency measure.”
“In the contract itself, there’s nothing wrong. It’s above board because there was an emergency during that time. The contract would expire in two weeks so we need to engage with somebody, and that’s the best thing that we could do at that time,” he said.
He said the government has done the same thing now by signing a negotiated contract with a Korean-Filipino consortium to maintain the MRT system.
Vitangcol said while he maintained his silence, he finally decided to speak up because of the unfair treatment he was receiving and its effect on his family.
“My cases have been moving very fast. There’s really an unseen hand in all of these cases,” Vitangcol said.
The Sandiganbayan Third Division said in December that they found probable cause to try Vitangcol for graft. The anti-graft body issued a hold departure order and a warrant of arrest all at the same time, Vitangcol said.
“There are many cases in the Ombudsman or at the Sandiganbayan but why are my case moving very fast? Is this just to make it appear that their so-called enemies are getting [prosecuted]?”
Presidential candidate and Senator Grace Poe on Wednesday urged President Benigno Aquino III to sack Abaya for “incompetence and shortsightedness.”
“I urge the good President not to wait for Abaya to resign but to replace him immediately,” Poe said in a statement.
She branded as “an eternity to our riding public” the remaining five months that Abaya would stay in his position if the President would not remove him.
“We have endured more than three years of Abaya’s incompetence and shortsightedness,” said Poe, who led a Senate inquiry into the problems at the MRT.
Earlier, Poe had questioned the Ombudsman’s decision to leave Abaya out of the charge sheet for graft over the PH Trans contracts.
“The safety of the riding public is of utmost importance. The reliability of public transportation should be a priority,” Poe said, saying there were major problems waiting to happen at the MRT-3.
Under Abaya’s watch, she added, 23 domestic airports were identified by Worldairportcodes.com as substandard.
Out of 144 countries, the Philippines ranked 108th in terms of air transport infrastructure, according to the 2014 Global Competitiveness Index of the World Economic Forum, she added.
“Our airports, notorious for their substandard facilities, need a major lift,” Poe said.
Meanwhile, a German-Filipino joint venture filed a graft complaint before the Office of the Ombudsman against executives at the DoTC over the non-payment of its service contract.
Schunk Bahn UND-Industrietechnik GMBH-Comm Builders and Technology Phils. Corp. said in its complaint that the DoTC withheld payment from them but not other suppliers for services rendered and products delivered.
MRT-3 general manager Roman Buenafe, Transport Undersecretary for Operations Edwin Lopez, and MRT-3 engineers Misael Narca, Arthuro Din and Daniel Barrera were named respondents.
SBI-CB&T was responsible for the upkeep of the MRT-3’s trains, signaling system, and depot equipment. With Macon Ramos-Araneta
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