TRANSPORTATION Undersecretary for Rails Cesar Chavez resigned Thursday as the Metro Rail Transit (MRT) Line 3 system continued to be crippled by technical glitches.
Chavez submitted his irrevocable resignation to President Rodrigo Duterte, saying he was leaving his post because of “recent events involving [the] MRT-3 system and [a] simple sense of delicadeza.”
Chavez said his resignation would pave the way for the appointment of a person better qualified to perform the duties and responsibilities of his position.
“I hope the problems plaguing the MRT-3 system [will[ be resolved properly and with dispatch,” he said.
Just this month, a coach decoupled from a train and a woman who got dizzy while waiting for a train fell from the platform of MRT-3 Ayala Station onto the tracks and lost her arm.
Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade said “contrary to the insinuation of others,” he did not ask Chavez to resign, saying the undersecretary enjoyed his full trust and confidence.
“We have been doing plans and strategies together, up and until yesterday. Even by text as I was in sickbay. That is why
I am surprised by the very sudden turn of events,” Tugade said.
On Nov. 6, the Transportation Department terminated the three-year maintenance contract of Busan Universal Railway Inc. (BURI) due to poor performance. Since then, the government has taken over the operation and maintenance of the MRT-3.
In a statement Thursday, the department said it was in high-level discussions with potential maintenance providers, including the previous contractor, Sumitomo Corp., and its technical partner, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries.
“Finding an interim maintenance service provider for MRT-3 in the medium-term, and an operations and maintenance concessionaire in the long-term, are some of the measures that the DOTr is taking to restore MRT-3’s operational reliability for its 500,000 daily riders,” the department said.
MRT -3, which runs along Edsa from North Avenue in Quezon City to Taft Avenue in Pasay City, serves over 500,000 passengers a day, beyond its rated capacity of 350,000.
The line has a fleet of 73 Czech-made air-conditioned rail cars. Senator Grace Poe expressed doubts that Chavez resigned due solely to his sense of delicadeza.
“He seemed to be one of the DOTr officials who was determined to fully address all the issues plaguing the [Metro Rail Transit]. I recall he was instrumental in unearthing the persons involved in anomalies that caused these issues,” said Poe in a statement.
Poe also called for the evaluation of the performance of the leadership of the Department of Transportation (DOTr) amid the recent spate of technical glitches suffered by the MRT-3.
“These issues should be properly and expeditiously resolved despite Undersecretary Chavez’s resignation and especially considering the commuting horrors our people have to go through everyday,” she added.
Poe said she hoped President Duterte will find a capable and willing replacement for Chavez.
Senator Francis Pangilinan said Chavez might have quit because he knows they cannot fix the problems hounding the MRT.
He said it was Chavez who recommended to suspend payments to the maintenance provider.
Senator JV Ejercito said he expects a “back-to-zero” scenario and more problems in the ailing MRT-3’s operations because Chavez’s replacement needs time to be acquainted with the train line’s issues.
“I expect more delays and problems to arise in the coming days as whoever the new officer-in-charge is needs time to be acquainted and to know the problems,” said Ejercito.
He also said Chavez’s resignation was “sad” as he is “is one of the more passionate DOTr officials specially on railway projects.”
Senator Joel Villanueva said Chavez was on the frontline of exposing anomalies at the MRT.
“His sudden resignation surprised us,” Villanueva said.
As undersecretary for rails, Chavez usually served as the main spokesman on MRT-3’s service interruptions, glitches and accidents.
He had also vowed that the MRT-3 operations would improve after they expelled BURI as the system’s maintenance provider.
A Liberal Party congressman, Ifugao Rep. Teddy Baguilant, said Chavez’s resignation was commendable.
He said Chavez’s resignation “sends a message of personal accountability for one’s actions.”
“This is in stark contrast to his other colleagues’ penchant of continuing to blame the officials of the previous administration for the MRT woes,” he said.
“Filing inappropriate plunder cases doesn’t make the trains run better. Better management and purchase of newer ones do,” Baguilat added.
Akbayan party-list Rep. Tom Villarin said “someone’s head had to be in the chopping block.”
“Undersecretary Chavez’s good intentions cannot hide a government that is leading us to nowhere,” Villarin, whose party-list group is closely allied to the LP, said.
Villarin said the MRT-3 mess is the problem of the whole gvernment.
“It was a campaign promise to be solved in the short run just like the campaign against illegal drugs,” Villarin said.
Earlier, the DoTR filed plunder charges against nine Aquino cCabinet members, led by LP stalwarts, former interior secretary Manuel Roxas II and former Transportation secretary Joseph Emilio Aguinaldo Abaya.
The nine Cabinet members were members of the Cabinet cluster that approved the cancellation of the MRT maintenance contract with the Japanese giant, Sumitomo Corp. and the eventual grant of the same contract to different corporations whose officials allegedly supported members of the LP, including the last corporation, BURI.
Also on Thursday, presidential spokesman Harry Roque said there was no reason for the President to meet with BURI officials.
Lawyer Maricris Pahate, external legal counsel of BURI, earlier said they wanted to meet with Duterte to explain how they were “unceremoniously kicked out of the contract.”
“We find no reason to have the requested meeting. We have already canceled the contract with BURI and the government decided to, meanwhile, take over the maintenance of MRT,” he said in a Palace briefing. – With Rey E. Requejo, Maricel V. Cruz and John Paolo Bencito