EDITORIAL - A disaster waiting to happen
(The Philippine Star) - January 6, 2016 - 9:00am

For the past two days, maintenance of the Metro Rail Transit 3 has been on virtual autopilot. Amid questions raised over the award of a multibillion-peso maintenance contract without public bidding, the South Korean company – said to be the only one with the expertise for the job – reportedly wants out of the deal, preferring to just provide technical advice to its Philippine partners.

The previous six-month MRT maintenance contract, also awarded without public bidding under the pretext of an emergency, lapsed on Jan. 4. The new deal was supposed to be signed the next day, but it did not push through reportedly because of the South Koreans’ move.

This reportedly prompted the Department of Transportation and Communications, which has jurisdiction over the MRT, to offer a one-month extension of the previous maintenance contract. But the principal player in that deal refused, citing unpaid fees amounting to about P102 million for its services.

The mess over the contracts, of which a previous deal earned the former MRT general manager and several other individuals a graft indictment, can only spell bad news for light rail commuters.

With the population and economy growing, priority should have been given a long time ago to upgrading the light railway services. Both the light railways and regular trains are popular among Metro Manila commuters, who like the traffic-free transportation and predictable travel times. Instead the facilities have been deteriorating, with the MRT 3 in particular prone to regular breakdowns.

The government claims that MRT woes had been simmering since the previous administration and were just waiting to boil over. Critics, on the other hand, trace the problems to the change in DOTC leadership from Jose de Jesus to Mar Roxas, when the maintenance contract with Japanese giant Sumitomo was scrapped for still unclear reasons.

Critics allege that since then, efficient service has taken a backseat to using the light railway for fund-raising by the ruling Liberal Party, whose president happens to be DOTC Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya. President Aquino, who rose to power on an anti-corruption campaign, must step into this mess before it leads to a serious accident.

This possibility has become greater with the absence of any group that is clearly in charge of maintaining the railway service. Critics claim that the DOTC created the circumstances that would give it an excuse to invoke an emergency and award lucrative contracts without public bidding to favored firms. This constitutes reckless endangerment and goes against the President’s avowed adherence to the straight path. He must step in before tragedy strikes.

DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION AND COMMUNICATIONS JAN LIBERAL PARTY MAR ROXAS METRO MANILA METRO RAIL TRANSIT PRESIDENT AQUINO SECRETARY JOSEPH EMILIO ABAYA SOUTH KOREAN SOUTH KOREANS SUMITOMO
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