FIRST PERSON - Alex Magno - The Philippine Star

Let’s not debate about whether we have a transport “crisis” or not. That is merely a semantic exercise.

What is sure is that we have not been exemplary in running the mass transport systems that are supposed to relieve the city of traffic congestion. Our commuter rail systems are inadequate at best, unreliable at worst.

A few days ago, a transformer at the LRT-2 line caught fire. That cut service along the whole line for three days. Replacement of the transformer will require an estimated nine months. During that time, there will be no service from the Cubao station to the terminal at Santolan.

Only in the Philippines, one is tempted to say. How, indeed, can we manage to have a fire on a rail line?

That can never happen in countries that love their trains, such as Japan or France. It can only happen in countries with a weak maintenance culture such as ours.

It is very likely that the LRT-2 transformer exploded because the oil indispensable to its efficient operation has not been changed years after the maintenance schedule said it should. This is a case of extreme neglect that produced hell for tens of thousands of consumers dependent on reliable rail service.

Perhaps it is something beyond neglect. Publicly operated utilities are prone to postponing maintenance work because the logic of the bureaucracy inhibits doing so.

Imagine a train technician going to his bosses asking for a rather large amount of money to replace the special oils used by the transformers. The likely response he will get is: if it is not broke, don’t fix it. The bosses, who know nothing of the engineering details, are normally inclined to cover their behinds when faced with procurement proposals.

It has been years since the LRT-2 fell due for a major overhaul. There is little indication that was done. The bureaucrats managing this line had to wait for a major failure to gain the impetus to do preventive maintenance.

The same problems haunt the MRT-3 line. After years of poor maintenance work, this line needs reconstructing.

When Mar Roxas was transport secretary, the idea struck him that Sumitomo was an expensive maintenance provider. He cancelled the contract and took in some amateur firm to do the maintenance for the rail line. That was the beginning of a disaster.

Now, Sumitomo is back on a contract to rehabilitate the MRT-3. The Japanese engineers, it appears, refuse to have the bulky trains Jun Abaya procured from Dalian to run (and ruin) the tracks.

Perhaps it is time to consider privatizing the commuter rail system.


Arriving from a hectic state visit to Russia, President Rodrigo Duterte rushed to the hospital. His daughter Kitty suffered from dengue – even after she was inoculated with the controversial Dengvaxia vaccine.

Kitty’s case is not unique. The DOH reports that from Jan. 1 to Sept. 21 this year, 320,000 cases of dengue were recorded. This is in addition to the measles epidemic that swept the archipelago the past few months and the alarming resurgence of polio.

Whatever Dengvaxia’s merits (or demerits) might be, the procurement of this vaccine remains suspended. This is a consequence of controversy over the reckless procurement of the vaccine in 2016 and its hasty application on 800,000 Filipino children on the eve of elections that year. Janette Garin was Health Secretary when this happened.

Dengvaxia remains close to Garin’s heart, apparently. Last week, she shouted down a colleague on the floor of the House of Representatives and attempted to have him removed from the hall after he raised questions about the credibility of government’s vaccination programs post-Dengvaxia.

When asked, in an interview last August, about the permanent ban on Dengvaxia, Garin accused current Health Secretary Francisco Duque of playing politics in upholding the ban on her favorite vaccine. Her remarks form part of a continuing diatribe against the government department she once headed.

When Paulyn Ubial was health secretary, Garin criticized what she called the haphazard procurement of Japanese Encephalitis vaccine. DOH insiders saw this as an effort to snow under the controversy over the procurement of Dengvaxia.

Later, she accused Calabarzon regional health director Eduardo Janiero of corruption. Janiero happens to head the DOH’s Dengvaxia Task Force.

Officials at the DOH are quite wary of whatever Garin is trying to do. She has become some sort of ghost from the past, anointing herself watchdog over the work of this department.

They are wary because they are familiar with Garin’s skills at playing politics to get things her way. She comes, after all, from a powerful political family and actually served as Iloilo provincial board member even as she was doing her residency in obstetrics and gynecology.

In 2015, she raised eyebrows among public health professionals when she was appointed Health Secretary. Since she did not have the exemplary clinical and medical management experience of her predecessors, it was assumed proximity to then President Noynoy Aquino explains her appointment. She replaced (or eased out) the illustrious Dr. Enrique T. Ona who had served as executive director of the National Kidney and Transplant Institute and was a TOYM awardee for medicine before being named to head the DOH.

Garin’s political ally in Iloilo, Sen. Franklin Drilon took the Public Attorney’s Office (PAO) to task during budget hearings for setting up a forensics lab. The PAO, we will recall, played a prominent role on behalf of parents claiming their children died because of Dengvaxia.



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