MRT chief to resign once cleared of charges

by Dharel Placido,

Posted at Apr 11 2014 01:42 PM | Updated as of Apr 12 2014 04:57 PM

MANILA – Metro Rail Transit (MRT) chief Al Vitangcol on Friday maintained he is innocent of allegations that he extorted money from a Czech firm, saying he will quit his post once he is cleared of the charges.

Speaking to ANC, Vitangcol said he will fight the allegations in court and then quit his post after his name his cleared.

''I have considered resigning but not at this time. If I resign at this time, it might be construed as an admission of guilt. Once I'm cleared by all investigating bodies, nobody would ask me to resign. I will resign voluntarily,'' Vitangcol told ANC.

Asked why he would still resign despite after being cleared, Vitangcol said, '' I didn't expect that government service will be like this."

Vitangcol was earlier accused by Czech Republic ambassador to the Philippines Josef Rychtar and Czech train builder Inekon Group CEO Josef Husek of extorting $30 million from the firm.

In his affidavit, Husek claimed that in a meeting in July 2012 at Rychtar's residence, which Vitangcol did not attend, businessman Wilson de Vera suggested that Inekon would be chosen as the supplier of the 48 new train coaches for MRT in exchange for $30 million.

The proposal was rejected by Inekon because the payment would cause the price of the coaches to rise.

Husek stated that De Vera left the premises of Rychtar's residence several times to ''consult someone'' over the phone. When De Vera came back, he said the $30 million demand had been lowered to $2.5 million.

''When he finally returned to the residence, he told us that according to Mr. Vitangcol, the contract price for one tram vehicle (will) not exceed US$3 million, as that is a fixed ceiling price set forth in an MRT consultancy expert report. He then told us that the sum of US$2.5 million instead of US$30 million indicated originally would be sufficient,'' Husek said.

Vitangcol said he is baffled why Rychtar alleged that De Vera played as his ''envoy'' in the alleged extortion attempt.

''If you'll be looking at the statement of the ambassador, it is a mere presumption,'' Vitangcol said.

After the meeting at the residence of Rychtar, Inekon officials went to Vitangcol's office the following day. In this meeting, Husek alleged that Vitangcol followed up on the $2.5 million offer and also offered a 60-40 joint venture between Inekon and people whom the MRT chief proposed would take care of the maintenance of the MRT.

Husek said Inekon refused all offers of the MRT team.

Vitangcol said he never authorized anyone to negotiate on his behalf and that he never met nor confronted De Vera since the issue surfaced. He said it is possible that De Vera used his name to extort money from the firm.

Vitangcol denied that such offers were made, saying ''in all my meetings in the office, it is attended by some of my staff. There are always minutes of the meetings. That conversation never took place."

The MRT chief also denied that Manolo Maralit, who was part of the consortium which took over the maintenance of MRT from Sumitomo, sent a text message to Rychtar saying that Vitangcol was furious that the Czech firm refused the offers.

Vitangcol said Maralit had likewise denied ever sending such a text message to the diplomat.

Time to fight back

Vitangcol said he is now ready to fight the allegations now that he has obtained Rychtar's signed affidavit and the ambassador has shed his diplomatic immunity.

''I am upset at everybody. Now that I have a copy of that, and that's the reason I dared the ambassador, now he has shed his immunity, we are ready to file charges against him (ambassador),'' he said.

Vitangcol said he does not know why a diplomat like Rychtar would hurl such allegations against him, but he suspects the latter is up to something.

''I really do not know what is going on in his mind. But I believe that he might have cut a deal with somebody else and it did not materialize because we conducted a public bidding,'' he said.

He also believes that his move to block deals disadvantageous to the government could be a reason why some people are trying to besmirch his name.

''I think there's somebody who wants me out of MRT, that I don’t know. I don't have any idea at all. There are so many people, there are so many business opportunities that were stopped when I was at MRT,'' he said.

Vitangcol also denied allegations that he is being protected by the government, particularly his boss, Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya. He said an investigation was launched against him and he went on leave during that period.

''There was lack of evidence. There was no basis for filing administrative charges against me. At that time, there was no written statement from him (Rychtar)… The legal department made the investigation based on media reports and that is too hard,'' he said.

48 new trains

The P3.8 billion MRT expansion project was eventually given to China's Dalian Locomotive and Rolling Stock Company.

The Chinese firm was chosen after the DOTC declared that it was fit to do the project.

Vitangcol said Inekon, which did not participate in the bidding, had insisted on a government-to-government deal for the supply of the coaches at $3.35 million per car.

''I am the only one who stood pat not to accept the government-to-government deal, and declared that it is an overpriced system. I endorsed to the department a lower amount for the coaches so that the government can buy more coaches,'' he said.

''If we accepted the deal of Inekon, we will be purchasing only 24 cars. Now, with the public bidding conducted properly, we were able to buy 48 cars. This would serve the riding public better."

Vitangcol explained that Inekon insisted on the government-to-government deal under the premise that it holds intellectual property rights to the trains.

He said under the Government Procurement Act, the government can enter into a negotiated deal if the supplier holds intellectual property rights to the subject of the procurement.

''But if we take a look at the original supplier of MRT light rail vehicles, we could see that the original cars were supplied by CKD, this is a company in the Czech Republic established in 1927 and then it has a subsidiary named CKD Tatra which was formed in 1963. This is the outfit that supplied all the 73 trains of MRT 3,'' he said.

''In 2002, CKD Tatra closed shop. It was bought in part by Siemen AG and another group, 11 FITE in 2004. In this whole scenario, Inekon is not part."