WE were flummoxed by the breathtaking claims of former Transport secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya before the Senate committee on public services Monday.
First, he disavowed any responsibility for the deterioration of the MRT 3 commuter train service—even though he had signed the questionable P3.8-billion maintenance contract with an untested, undercapitalized and unqualified company that allowed the train system to deteriorate to a point where breakdowns and service interruptions are the rule rather than the exception.
Second, Abaya suggested that it was all right for public officials to sign contracts on behalf of the government without doing due diligence.
Testifying during the hearing, Abaya admitted he was not aware that PH-Trams CB&T that won the maintenance deal for MRT 3 was only two months old and had no more than P500,000 in capitalization. He signed the contract anyway because he was just new on the job and trusted his predecessor, Manuel Roxas II, and his people who had decided on the contract.
“There was a presumption that the organization, that the bureaucracy was doing its job,” Abaya said.
Third, Mr. Abaya insinuated that it was all right to do a shoddy job as long as you could fix it down the road.
Speaking once again about the maintenance contract, Abaya said he was advised not to interfere in the bidding process because “the eventual appeal” would be brought to his office anyway. Who, we demand to know, gave Mr. Abaya such poor advice?
Fourth, Mr. Abaya all but said it is all right for Cabinet members to make serious mistakes that hurt and even endanger the public simply because they are still learning the ropes.
Questioned about his ignorance of the PH-Trams deal, Mr. Abaya said at the time he signed the contract, he was busy familiarizing himself with air and sea transportation issues, and the MRT was the least of his concerns.
Yet later on in his term, Mr. Abaya also signed a contract to buy 48 light rail vehicles from China’s Dailan that will reamain unusable for the next three years because they are not compatible with the MRT system’s signaling system.
Mr. Abaya’s only defense in this regard was that under the contract’s terms of reference, all of the trains should have had “full compatibility.”
That they turned out not to be fully compatible means nobody in Mr. Abaya’s department bothered to check before he signed on the dotted line.
Will Mr. Abaya claim once again that he had more important things to occupy his time than the MRT?
Finally, Mr. Abaya exhibited the kind of arrogance that we hope we will never again see in a public servant.
In the face of overwhelming evidence of his wrongdoing, Mr. Abaya expected all of us to simply take his word for it that there nothing nothing irregular with the contracts he signed. In fact, he said, he was answerable only to “the Lord and not to anyone else.”
“I guarantee you that no one made money out of this. There is no truth to the allegations. All these actions are above board and our conscience are clear,” he said. “I can answer the Lord and tell him that we did our jobs well.”
First, Mr. Abaya and his ilk must be reminded that in a secular democracy, they are answerable to the people, not to God.
Also, given the number of times Mr. Abaya has got things completely wrong, it seems much more likely that he will have a dialogue with the fallen angel who was cast from heaven than God himself, when he is finally called to account for his actions.