Abaya granted same 4 deals for MRT-3 signaling system

GOTCHA - Jarius Bondoc (The Philippine Star) - October 6, 2015 - 10:00am

He just awarded P53.4 M to upgrade the network, yet secretly is negotiating to replace it all for P900 M. For the same works he already paid P1.8 B to two LP-controlled firms.

What is Transport Sec. Joseph Abaya up to? Last week he contracted a Moscow-based company to upgrade the MRT-3 commuter rail’s obsolete signaling system, for P53.4 million. Yet he also secretly is negotiating with unnamed parties for the total replacement of the same system, for P900 million.

To begin with, that is the same signaling network for which two past MRT-3 contractors were paid P1.8 billion partly to maintain and upgrade. Those two past contractors were led by Liberal Party-mates of Abaya, the LP acting president.

Signaling is the automated operation-communication that keeps trains at safe distances and speeds from each other. It electronically links trains to one another, and to the MRT-3 control center. Monitoring at all times what trains are moving or stopped, it signals others to brake or proceed. It also automatically shuts down operations in case of power trip-off, derailment, or impending accident.

The Moscow firm that Abaya contracted last week is Bombardier Transportation Signal Ltd., a joint venture of Berlin-based rail solutions world leader Bombardier Transportation and the Russian Railway.

Having supplied MRT-3’s original signaling in 2000, Bombardier holds exclusive proprietary rights to supply new components. For the P53.4 million, it is to replace in seven months the old MAN-900 system with its newer EBI Screen-900, to which can be connected desktop computers and fiber-optic telecom cables.

To justify his contract, Abaya publicized: “This upgrade of an obsolete signaling system, which should have been done by the private sector owner years ago, is crucial in minimizing operational disruptions. This will improve reliability and efficiency of the railway for the benefit of our passengers.”

That was a half-truth, to make it look like the delayed upgrade was the fault of the MRTC (Metro Rail Transit Corp.), the railway’s private owner-builder. On record however, MRTC and Sumitomo Corp., the Japanese maintenance servicer from the start, had told MRT-3 in 2010-2012 to upgrade, to no avail. Notably, MRTC has been under government control since 2008, with 11 of 15 board seats held by Development Bank of the Philippines and Land Bank.

In short, it was all government’s fault. Had the MRT-3 upgraded the signaling back then, it would have cost “only a little over half the present price,” sources say. It’s also odd that Abaya is dealing with a company in faraway Moscow, when the nearest branch of Bombardier is in nearby Singapore, they add. What is he hiding?

In Oct. 2012 Abaya suddenly rescinded Sumitomo’s 12-year-long contract, and replaced it sans public bidding with PH Trams. The latter, then only two months old and undercapitalized, is chaired by LP fundraiser Marlo dela Cruz.

PH Trams’ $1.15-million monthly contract lasted 10-1/2 months, totaling P535 million. Under the contract it was supposed not only to maintain the signaling as Sumitomo did, but also “replace or upgrade the system at its option,” that is, if it deemed the effort profitable. The maintenance strictly was to follow the service manual and the parts replacement schedules.

In the first two months PH Trams retained the Bombardier technicians that Sumitomo was paying, then discarded them. Roehl Bocar, president of the joint venture maintenance partner CommBuilders and Transport (CB&T) told The STAR that the partnership was on the rocks by Dec. 2012 because PH Trams reneged on providing the spare parts.

The railway’s five main components – trains, tracks, power supply, stations, and signaling – began deteriorating since then. Breakdowns and accidents became frequent.

When PH Trams’ incorporator-directors were linked to a $30-million extortion attempt on Inekon Corp., the MRT-3’s original Czech train supplier, Abaya dropped it like a hot potato. He shifted the maintenance to Global Epcom. As with PH Trams, however, the new outfit’s “authorized representative” was still the LP’s Marlo dela Cruz.

Abaya paid Global Epcom P1.25 billion for 23 months, Sept. 2013-July 2014. Part of its work also was to maintain the signaling, and again to replace or upgrade the system at its option. But like PH Trams, it never did.

As the railway declined further, breakdowns became more frequent, almost every day. Accidents too worsened, with serious injuries to passengers. With the signaling all shot, trains suddenly would surge or brake, slamming riders against the walls and to the floor. MRT-3 engineers took to manually driving the coaches, communicating by walkie-talkie, and signaling at dark by flashlights. All the more the commuters’ lives and limbs were imperiled.

Abaya has since broken up the MRT-3 maintenance into seven sub-works, each handled by separate firms. Influential Global Epcom still gets P23.4 million a month, for the easy job of cleaning the stations, and replacing busted light bulbs or toilet fixtures, if at all.

Last month this column exposed Abaya’s secret negotiations, instead of public bidding, for MRT-3’s P4.25-billion rehab. One of the four components is the total replacement of the signaling system. The P900-million budget is to come from the 2014 General Appropriation Act.

Forced to admit his secret dealings, Abaya claimed it was due to the emergency nature of the project. Sen. Grace Poe and Rep. Jonathan dela Cruz (not related to Marlo) are asking how a work proposed as far back as 2013, for inclusion in the 2014 national budget, can be an emergency to warrant negotiated instead of publicly bid contract.

If there’s an emergency at all, it’s because Abaya let his LP-mates in PH Trams and Global Epcom take the money – P1.8 billion – and run.

Sources say the P900-million purchase of a totally new signaling system, to replace one that is presently being upgraded for P53.4 million, is to cover up yet another anomalous contract. It concerns Abaya’s P3.8-billion purchase of 48 new coaches from an unqualified Chinese firm. The first prototype, a supposedly fully functional model, arrived last month – without any engine and signaling system, contrary to contract.

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Catch Sapol radio show, Saturdays, 8-10 a.m., DWIZ, (882-AM).

Gotcha archives on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Jarius-Bondoc/1376602159218459, or The STAR website http://www.philstar.com/author/Jarius%20Bondoc/GOTCHA

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