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MRT maintenance provider sues DoTr execs over P176-M delayed payments

Busan Universal Rail Inc. said bills number 1 to 8 covering the period from January 19 to September 18 last year were promptly paid by the DoTr-MRT3. However, payments for the succeeding billings stopped. File
MANILA, Philippine — Busan Universal Rail Inc. (BURI), the maintenance provider of Metro Rail Transit (MRT) Line 3, Wednesday filed graft and ethics violation complaints against Department of Transportation (DoTr) Undersecretary for Railways Cesar Chavez and two other officials of the agency.
 
Represented by its lawyer Charles Perfecto Mercado, the BURI urged the Office of the Ombudsman to investigate Chavez, DoTr senior technical assistant Hernando Cabrera and DoTr consultant Jorgette Bellen for violation of Sections 3 (e) and 3 (f) of Republic Act 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act.
 
Section 3 (e) of RA 3019 prohibits a public official from giving unwarranted benefit, advantage of preference to any party, or from causing any party undue injury. Section 3 (f) of the same law, meanwhile, prohibits a public official from neglecting or refusing to act on a relevant matter or request before his office, without valid justification and amid due demand from the concerned party.
 
 
The BURI also urged the ombudsman to investigate the three DoTr officials for violation of RA 6713 or the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees.
 
The company said the three officials conspired in withholding the payments for 10 billing statements totaling P176,139,139.13 representing the maintenance services it rendered from September 2016 to July 2017.
 
“This [non-payment] is for bill numbers 9 to 18, around P176 million more or less. This would include monthly billings that are totally unpaid and also the amounts that were partially withheld from previous billings,” BURI another lawyer Redentor Roque explained to reporters after the filing of the complaint.
 
Under the maintenance contract, BURI is entitled to a monthly payment of P54.5 million.
 
 
The group said that while bills number 1 to 8 covering the period from January 19 to September 18, 2016 were promptly paid by the DoTr-MRT3, the payments for the succeeding billings stopped supposedly when Chavez was designated as officer-in-charge of the MRT Office of the Director of Operations in October last year.
 
The BURI said payments were withheld despite their timely submission of supporting documents required under the contract such as the billing invoice, surety bond, monthly maintenance/accomplishment report, train availability certification, conveyance availability report, preventive/corrective maintenance program or plan and manpower schedule, among others.
 
Instead, the BURI said Chavez, in conspiracy with Cabrera and Bellen, required additional documents not stated in the contract. Furthermore, Chavez also supposedly referred BURI's billings for further evaluation by joint venture UICI, Seoul Metro, Dong Il and JF Cancio, a consultancy firm hired by MRT-3 in which Bellen serves as the program head.
 
 
The group said such further evaluation was not stated in the contract.
 
“In this instance, respondents' concerted acts have wrought damage and prejudice to BURI, which had been deprived of payments due it under the contract, which it could have used to further improve its services as maintenance provider for the MRT3 system,” the complaint read.
 
“Alternately, respondents' concerted acts were intended to achieve their objective of terminating the contract and transferring the same purportedly to the Light Rail Transit Authority (LRTA), despite the fact that BURI is performing its obligations under contract and is performing better than LRT1 and LRT2 in terms of fleet and train availability,” it added.
 
The group also prayed to the ombudsman to placed Chavez and Cabrera under a six-month suspension to prevent them from “derailing” the investigation on the complaint.

'Whimsical delays'

In an earlier television interview, Chavez admitted that his office had already recommended to the MRT-3 to terminate the maintenance contract with BURI but it would still be the MRT-3 that would ultimately decide.
 
"We (DoTr) are for the termination of the contract. I already signed a position paper and further signed a supplemental position paper detailing the causes of the problems and the course of action that the government should take," Chavez said in an interview with CNN Philippines.
 
 
In an interview after the filing of the complaint, Mercado maintained there were “whimsical delays” on the part of the respondents for the release of the payments.
 
“Other than there is no basis under the contract for their withholding of the payments, there were 'whimsical delays' on the part of Chavez in conspiracy with the two others [Cabrera and Bellen],” Mercado said.
 
“Several disbursement vouchers requiring his (Chavez) signatures have been pending in his table for several months,” Mercado added in Filipino.
 
In a separate statement, Chavez said: “My decision to withheld payment is precisely to protect public funds, hence, antithesis to graft. How can I be charged of graft when I am only protecting public funds?”
 
 
Chavez said he required additional documents from BURI to comply with the auditing requirements of the Commission on Audit.
 
“When a company has submitted the documents required by COA, we make the necessary payments. When the company is non-compliant with the requirements, of course, we do not release the payment,” Chavez said.
 
“We have to be prudent in examining the billings to ensure that what was supplied to us were original spare parts and not 'cannibalized' or those taken from old railing or coaches. This is to ensure the safety of the public,” he added.
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