By Vince Alvic A. F. Nonato, Reporter

Vitangcol to SC: Roxas neglect led to MRT-3 mess

Posted on February 19, 2016

THE ADMINISTRATION presidential candidate Manuel A. Roxas II should have been impleaded too by the Ombudsman for the utter deterioration of the Metro Rail Transit Line 3, the railway’s former general manager told the Supreme Court on Thursday.

An MRT car in the Pasay Rotonda area after overshooting the station barrier in this file photo of 13 Aug. 2014. -- BW File Photo
In a 25-page affidavit, Al S. Vitangcol III asked the Supreme Court to halt the Sandiganbayan Third Division’s court proceedings on the Office of the Ombudsman’s graft case against him.

Mr. Vitangcol was accused before the Sandiganbayan of conflict of interest for handing over the maintenance of the railway to a company that involved his wife’s uncle.

But he stressed he was singled out by the Office of the Ombudsman’s indictment while Mr. Roxas and other Department of Transportation and Communications (DoTC) officials -- including current Secretary Joseph Emilio A. Abaya -- were let off the hook for the MRT-3’s problems.

“I am the only DoTC official charged by the Ombudsman despite the unmistakable knowledge, involvement, participation and instruction of my superiors in the DoTC...,” read Mr. Vitangcol’s affidavit.

The affidavit stated that as DoTC secretary, Mr. Roxas deliberately failed to respond to the MRT Corp.’s (MRTC) procurement requests, even in light of the looming expiry of the maintenance contract with Sumitomo Corp. on Oct. 19, 2012.

After a month of Mr. Roxas’ inaction, Mr. Vitangcol said he wrote Undersecretary Jose Perpetuo M. Lotilla in June 2012 regarding the pending procurement request and raised the lack of time to properly bid out the maintenance of the railway.

MRTC Chairman and President Tomas T. de Leon, Jr. also wrote Mr. Roxas in July to propose the firm to take over the procurement process since time was running out. Even then, Mr. Roxas did not act on this request.

“These issues were never addressed promptly -- which, as I warned, caused future operational problems at MRT-3,” Mr. Vitangcol said.

He recounted that on August, Mr. de Leon transmitted the unsolicited proposal of Philippine Trams Rail Management and Services Corp. (PH Trams) CB&T Joint Venture.

Mr. Vitangcol said that from there, he learned that Arturo V. Soriano, an uncle of his wife, was one of the incorporators of PH Trams. But Mr. Soriano assured him that he would divest his shares to another incorporator, Marlo P. dela Cruz.

“I was always of the firm belief that Soriano was no longer connected with PH Trams,” Mr. Vitangcol said. “This conflict of interest became the focal point of the Ombudsman’s investigation and in the process deliberately lost sight of the more insidious practices that have occurred in the DoTC.”

When Sumitomo Corp. called DoTC’s attention, the agency -- under the tenure of the new secretary, Mr. Abaya -- ordered on Sept. 28, 2012 the task force by Mr. Vitangcol to review the new maintenance contract.

Mr. Vitangcol’s panel proposed that the DoTC immediately bid out a five-year contract, but he said the DoTC opted for direct negotiation with PH Trams citing time constraints.

Mr. Abaya signed the contract.

“I did not play any role in the formulation of that decision because as General Manager of the MRT-3, I have neither the power nor the authority to approve and award projects amounting to more than P5 million,” Mr. Vitangcol said.

Later, the DoTC extended the temporary contract with PH Trams twice, costing the government US$12.17 million (P535.5 million at the time).

Mr. Vitangcol said the DoTC’s procurement moves under Mr. Abaya showed a tendency to award contracts “out of friendship or political affiliation.”

Instead of him being connected with PH Trams by way of his wife’s uncle, Mr. Vitangcol said Mr. Abaya was friends with Mr. dela Cruz, as admitted in an Oct. 6, 2014 interview by GMA News TV’s Bawal Ang Pasaway kay Mareng Winnie.

Later, the long-term maintenance contract was awarded to Busan Transportation Corp. in partnership with four other firms.

Mr. Vitangcol said this was brokered by Eugene Rapanut, a certified member of President Benigno S. C. Aquino III’s Liberal Party in Ilocos Sur since 1987. He added this same party member was also involved in the transaction with Dalian Locomotive & Rolling Stock Co. Ltd. to supply 48 new train coaches.

Likewise, Mr. Vitangcol said his concerns regarding the MRT-3’s payment of P100 million in “useless insurance premiums,” as well as his proposals to lower operating costs, were ignored.

Mr. Vitangcol said he coursed the proposals to the Presidential Management Staff through Aika G. Robredo, a technical assistant of the DoTC and a daughter of Mr. Roxas’ running mate, Camarines Sur 3rd District Rep. Maria Leonor G. Robredo.

The affidavit was attached to his omnibus motion to implead the Sandiganbayan Third Division in his case. The said motion requested a temporary restraining order or an injunction against the court proceedings.

Mr. Roxas’s camp said that by airing his side, Mr. Vitangcol was simply trying to deflect blame from himself.

Akbayan Rep. Ibarra Gutierrez, administration coalition spokesperson, said in a text message: “Mr. Vitangcol is simply trying to shift attention from his own criminal culpability. He was the one who deliberately concealed a conflict of interest. He is the one found to have committed a crime by the Ombudsman.

“Sec. Mar’s actions on this issue are a matter of public record, and will bear any scrutiny,” he added.

The DoTC, for its part, maintained that “it strictly complies with procurement laws, including those concerning Metro Rail Transit Line 3’s (MRT-3) maintenance requirements.”