Abaya admits approving MRT deal without knowing firm's background

Patrick Quintos, ABS-CBN News

Posted at May 15 2017 06:20 PM

Abaya says he approved deal in good faith

MANILA - Former Transportation Secretary Joseph Emilio "Jun" Abaya admitted before a Senate panel that he approved a maintenance deal for the Metro Rail Transit - 3 (MRT-3) without knowing the maintenance provider's background. 

During a Senate inquiry, Senator Grace Poe asked the former transportation chief if he was aware that PH-Trams, who won the bid in a joint venture with CB&T, was incorporated a couple of months before the award was given. 

"Alam ba niyo na iyung kompanya na 'yan, maliit lang ang kapitalisasyon... P625,000, na binibigyan niyo ng kontrata for more than P50 million a month? Two months, ilang months pa lang, na-incorporate, nanalo na ng kontrata? Hindi ba kayo nagtaka nun?" asked Poe, who chairs the committee on public service. 

For his part, Abaya said as the newly appointed secretary back then, he wanted to look into the details of the bidding process at that time but was advised not to meddle in the process.

"Dapat, sir, hindi ka nakikialam, nakikiusyoso dito kasi ang eventual appeal ay papunta sa 'yo," he remembered being told by a former transport department undersecretary. 

Poe further asked Abaya if the previous leadership of the transport department, then called Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC), was committed to awarding the bid to PH Trams. Abaya said he was not aware.
 
"Noong nagkaroon po ng desisyon. At that time, nag-o-orient ako sa DOTC. The last thing I would want is to know how these bidders are partnering themselves. I was orienting in air, in rail, in sea. That was my last concern," he said.

Poe then asked Abaya if he approved the maintenance contract without knowing PH Trams' background. The former transportation chief said yes but he did so in good faith. 

Asked if the transportation department leadership before him did due diligence on PH Trams, Abaya said he wouldn't know but he approved the deal anyway in good faith. 

Abaya was appointed transportation chief after his predecessor, Mar Roxas, was transferred to the Department of the Interior and Local Governance (DILG). 

"There was a presumption that the organization, the bureaucracy was doing its job," Abaya told Poe. "If I came there as a 'doubting Thomas' being careful that I won't sign anything, MRT-3 would have stopped on October 19."

"No maintenance provider, Sumitomo (MRT's maintenance provider from 2000 to 2010) would have packed its bags, that I could not explain to our people,” he added.

'No anomaly in MRT deals'

Meanwhile, Abaya maintained that all the MRT-3 contracts made under his stint in the Transport department were done in accordance with the law.

He said the 48 trains from China's Dalian Locomotive Corp. were procured with the expectation that these would be fully compatible with the existing MRT-3 system, including its signaling system.

"Ginagarantiyahan ko sa inyo, walang nakinabang dito. Walang kalokohan ito. Above board lahat. Malinaw ang konsesiya namin. Kaya kong sagutin ang aking Panginoon na ginawa namin nang maayos ito," Abaya said.

Full operations of the new 48 light rail vehicles (LRV) from Dalian were halted as the Department of Transportation (DOTr) wanted to make sure the signaling system of these trains are compatible with the current system of the MRT-3. 

MRT General Manager Deo Manalo earlier pointed out that the signaling system works, and they are only fixing some issues in the the feedback signal and response time. He said they expect to resolve all these issues this month. 

"Malinaw na malinaw po na CRRC Dalian is fully responsible to ensure the signaling works. At the end of the...kung pumapalpak po ito, ang tanging sisisihin natin ay ang CRRC," said Abaya, who also stressed the procurement process was strictly followed. 

He added that the DOTC during his time relied heavily on consultants who were experts on rail, LRV designs and safety standards, in the procurement of the Dalian trains to ensure quality. 

Dalian trains work, Abaya insists

Abaya, meanwhile, belied reports that LRVs from Dalian do not have wheels, engines, signaling, depot and power. 

"These trains can run. I personally rode the trains. I was there a couple of times. We didn't get media. I just wanted to ensure to put my life on the line to make sure when people ride these trains, they will function safely," he said. 

The MRT earlier said 5 trains from Dalian will be added in December to the trains running during peak hours, as they configure the current 20 3-car trains running during peak hours. 

This addition is expected to increase MRT capacity to 600,000 passengers, ending the long lines at its stations, said the MRT. 

More trains from Dalian will be added after the upgrade of the MRT power and the completion of the North Turnback by April 2018.