The MRT mess and the mentality behind it


Posted on December 10, 2014

Part Two

TO SOLVE this impasse, there were plans during the final days of the GMA term to buy out the MRTC so as to end the multi-billion-peso lease due to it. The current administration is still mulling on proceeding with this plan.

Bigger problems then ensued in the recent few years. There was this impression in the new DoTC leadership that the MRT deal was grossly unfavorable to the government because of the “high” lease payment.

What they failed to see is that this “high” lease payment was because the low fares couldn’t even support operations. Politically, these low fares were a government subsidy of something like P50 per riding commuter. That’s P50 paid for by the rest of the country -- Mindanaoans, Visayans and other Luzonians ­-- who do not benefit from the MRT.

With an anti-MRTC mind-set of a poorly executed deal, the DoTC decided to reinvent the wheel; the short-term maintenance contract, ignorant of technical details, was awarded to a new entity. Priced nearly like the Sumitomo contract but allegedly without the supply of imported spare parts for the trains, which was 60% of the cost of the Sumitomo contract. DoTC denies that the terms of reference of its new bid contract for the MRT O&M excludes parts. So why did the interim O&M contractor run low on parts? Ironically, it was the DoTC’s failure to permit Customs to release the spare parts for the MRT that became the cause of the “failure” of Sumitomo to fulfill their contract obligations. We won’t horrify you further by recapping the unprecedented accidents and breakdowns that has continued to bedevil the MRT ever since the DoTC has been reneging and endlessly tinkering with the operations contracts of the railway. Naturally, in the ensuing blame game, the government side demonizes the “greedy, selfish” motives of private sector businessmen. In the meantime, the latest DoTC bidding for the MRT-3’s P2.2-billion new three-year extended O&M contract attracted no bidders.

As we find Robert John Sobrepeña’s explanations rational and revelatory, clearly the muddle that the government has made of the MRT doesn’t necessarily point to Secretary Abaya. He is only as good as the advice that he gets from those underlings tasked to unravel the MRT mess who, by lack of understanding and/or in pursuit of some agenda against any deal that was constructed under the Ramos or GMA administration, aggravated the situation. Meantime, the Palace is still stuck with the impression that the MRT was a poorly negotiated contract during the Ramos years, a lopsided deal that puts the government at a gross disadvantage. A deeper look into the events and changes in policies over the past years will show that the Palace’s pronouncements as to the causes and effects of the MRT mess are in grave error.

In the end, the victims are us, the commuters, who will have to deal with congestion daily. We suffer the mistakes and erroneous perceptions of the government in the problems from the unnecessary conflicts it ignites. But the DoTC can take heart as it is not the only guilty agency.

Look at the missteps of DoE in the power sector. Power output shortage? Propose emergency powers to legislate even the setting of thermostats in air-conditioners. Never mind how one is to police that. In all truth, the solution lies in implementing the EPIRA law in its entirety. Not having done this, the government effectively disincentivized the building of additional power plants. Bowing to popular pressure not to fulfill contracted power price increase further discourages private sector investment in power generation.

Returning to the government agency that causes most of the problems we suffer, we can only mark this descent into administrative hell when DoTC Secretary Ping de Jesus resigned. We’ve mentioned LTFRB’s reckless franchising of buses during GMA’s tenure, aggravated recently by an opinion of an LTFRB officer that private cars should be banned from EDSA during the morning rush hour, apparently unaware that the original intent of the EDSA LRT or MRT was to ban the buses and not vice versa.

In its desperate efforts to sidetrack Stradcom and other current LTO suppliers, LTO ended up with inferior registration sticker tags that fell off in weeks and drivers’ licenses that faded in three months’ time. LTO had an opportunity to improve our license plates with its new Dutch supplier.

But now that the 7-alpha-digit plates are out -- after a year’s delay -- where is the improvement in the plate number size? Instead of elongating it, the new plates use nearly the same dimensions as the old plates, the only difference being the fonts, which are now condensed to fit tighter kerning. They are like the duplicate-replacement plates of the old system even as the new plates use a new color scheme with European zeroes and fours.

This dumbing down in making regulations forces the public to bear the brunt and suffer more in the cause of expediency, supposedly for the greater good. This psyche is an unfortunate result of a worldwide backlash from the security lapses that didn’t anticipate the 9-11 tragedy.

If you recall, the military-industrial complex and Cheney-Rumsfeld indoctrinated, knee-jerked by creating the TSA (Transport Safety Agency), which in turn spawned the mentality where everyone, even the law abiding, are suspects whose civil liberties can be disregarded for the sake of the greater public good. Let the public suffer for so long as government is seen to be doing something, anything.

So now you have the police saying that mall robberies can be prevented by banning the wearing of baseball caps indoors. Local governments are requiring all business owners to have CCTV surveillance cameras. The spate of crimes committed by men tandem-riding motorcycles spawned oppressive regulations on motorcycle riders, like the “plaka” or license plate high-visibility vests, the ban on tandem pillion passengers and the ban on wearing of safety helmets. If only one can ban sloppy thinking.

It’s as if cops, with their nice new pistols and nice new private cars cannot commit crime. Whatever happened to their motto “to serve and protect”?

The problems above, just like the MRT mess, are the result of decision makers making decisions and law makers making laws, without understanding what are the causes that deliver such dire effects that they want to correct. Quick to action without knowing the cause and effect does more harm than good. In the name of justice, do we deserve such degradation of our civil rights?