Abaya, other DOTC execs liable for graft – MRTH

Robertzon Ramirez - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines – Metro Rail Transit Holdings Inc. chairman Robert Sobrepeña yesterday expressed support for the recommendation of a Senate subcommittee to file graft charges against top transportation officials for entering into contracts detrimental to MRT3 commuters.

Sobrepeña told reporters in a press conference at Belvedere Tower in Pasig City that there are definite grounds for the filing of graft charges against Transportation and Communications Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya and other officials of his department because of their inaction on all the proposals of the private sector.

The Senate subcommittee on public services chaired by Sen. Grace Poe submitted the report to Sen. Sergio Osmeña III, chairman of the Senate public services committee, as Congress adjourned last Wednesday for the campaign period.

Poe’s panel cited the “badges of negligence and inactions of the DOTC led by Secretary Abaya indicating insensitiveness, callous indifference and acts disadvantageous to the commuters, the Filipino public and the government.”

As such, the subcommittee sought the filing of charges for violation of Republic Act 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act.

“The fact that DOTC awarded such a huge contract to a two-month-old company is a smoking gun. They could be charged with graft,” Sobrepeña said.

On Thursday, Abaya told television and business reporters that he has nothing to worry about because his conscience is clear and the DOTC is religiously following the procurement law.

Abaya chided Poe for believing the lies of Sobrepeña, who he said is only giving problems instead of solutions to the MRT.

Qualified to get PAO assistance?

 Meanwhile, the Public Attorney’s Office (PAO) will decide next week if it can grant former Metro Rail Transit general manager Al Vitangcol III’s request that he be represented by a public lawyer in his graft case before the Sandiganbayan.

In accordance with the rules, the accused will have to prove that he has an income of less than P14,000 a month for him to qualify as an indigent needing legal assistance from the government.

“We’ll have to see if at the time of need of free legal aid, he has no income, or if his net income reaches our ceiling,” PAO chief Persida Acosta told The STAR in an interview yesterday.

“We’ll evaluate if he’s qualified. The Sandiganbayan is giving the PAO the decision on whether to accept him or not,” she added.

Claiming to be broke, the former MRT chief asked the Sandiganbayan to let him avail of the services of PAO in graft cases for his alleged role in a train service maintenance deal anomaly.

He said he could not afford expensive private lawyers who are asking for P1 million in acceptance and other legal fees because he does not have a job.

“The institution of this instant case, together with the seemingly biased press releases of the Office of the Ombudsman, had effectively ruined the reputation and integrity of the herein accused,” his motion read.

“Thus, he was not able to get new clients in the exercise of his profession and greatly diminished his earning capacity,” he said.

Hearing his motion yesterday, the Sandiganbayan said Vitangcol does not need the permission of the anti-graft court since it will be up to the PAO whether he is qualified to be represented by a free lawyer from the government or not.

‘Suspend maintenance contract’

Meanwhile, the Alliance for Consumerism and Transparency (ACTION) is calling on the Commission on Audit (COA) to suspend the P3.8- billion maintenance contract for MRT3 and the general overhaul of trains, citing irregularities.

In a letter dated Feb. 2 to Abenilda Torres, supervising auditor of the DOTC, ACTION’s lawyers from the Gargantiel, Estrada, Atanante & Ilagan Law Firm requested the COA to look into the irregularities in the maintenance contract awarded to the joint venture of Busan Transportation Corp., Edison Development and Construction, Tramat Mercantile Inc., TMICorp Inc. and Castan Corp. announced in December.

The contract covers the maintenance of the rolling stock and signaling system of the train line running from North Avenue station in Quezon City to Taft station in Pasay City.

The deal likewise includes the general overhaul of 43 coaches over the course of the agreement period and the total replacement of the signaling system within 24 months. The contract was awarded by the DOTC through an alternative mode of procurement or negotiated procurement as attempts to bid out the deal in September 2014 and January 2015 resulted in failure, with no bidders showing up.

Abaya has said the move was in line with the Government Procurement Reform Act.  – With Michael Punongbayan, Louella Desiderio

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