Escudero wants Senate panel to probe MRT extort try

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Monday, April 7, 2014


SENATOR Francis Escudero on Monday said the Senate Blue Ribbon committee should investigate the alleged attempt by a government official to extort $30 million from a Czech Republic-based firm for the procurement of additional coaches of Metro Rail Transit (MRT) 3.

The committee on finance chair, however, said that his panel will focus more on the factors causing the delay of the implementation of the project and not on the alleged extortion on train coach supplier, Inekon.

Czech Ambassador to the Philippines Josef Rychtar and Inekon Group CEO and chairman Josef Husek earlier claimed that there was an attempt to extort $30 million from MRT-3 project deal.

Wilson de Vera and MRT general manager Al Vitangcol III were being tagged as the people behind the extortion try.

Rychtar and Husek have earlier cleared presidential sister Ballsy Aquino-Cruz and her husband, Eldon Cruz, in the controversy.

Vitangcol, who has denied the extortion charges against him, had been cleared by the Department of Transportation and Communication (DOTC).

He also expressed willingness to face his accusers in court.

Immediately after a hearing of the Senate finance committee on Monday, the MRT official explained that the offered price of Inekon is far higher compared to the winning bidder, Chinese company CNR Dalian Locomotive & Rolling Stone, that offered an amount of $1.8 million for each train.

Vitangcol denied manipulations and the alleged blacklisting of Inekon on the DOTC listing of bidders. Earlier, the blacklisting issue was denied by Transportation and Communication Secretary Emilio Abaya.

The bidding for the P3.77-billion contract for new MRT coaches has been affected due to the issue of extortion. It also caused delays in the rail system's capacity expansion program.

Escudero said his focus is more on factors causing the delayed government projects, including the purchase of 48 new MRT coaches.

"Dito po pumapasok ang concern ng ating committee dahil ang taong bayan ang siyang nagdadala ng problema at nag sa suffer dito," Escudero said.

Escudero said services to the people should be a prime consideration of each and every government agencies.

The senator said he will require through legislation the posting of cash bond in order to make sure that services will not suffer.

"Dapat i require na ang pag post ng bond at hindi lamang surety kundi cash bond equivalent dun sa magagastos ng gobyerno na dagdag dahil sa delay pati na rin yung nawawala sa gobyerno economically speaking dahil sa pagkabinbin ng nasabing proyekto," said Escudero.

He said the temporary restraining order (TRO) being used by those who were not able to make it in the bidding is not helping the government in pursuing its goal in giving the people the right service.

When asked to comment about the alleged extortion attempt, the senator said the proper court should look into the matter since the accusation is a serious matter.

But he also asked why the accusers did not file a formal case against the alleged extortionist and his alleged cohorts.

"Ni walang formal affidavit kundi narration o sulat lamang pala ang ginawa ng complainant," he said.

In a related development, Escudero noted that the MRT's corporate structure is causing delays in the implementation of long-overdue transportation projects aimed at improving the mass transport system.

Escudero said the current system governing the Metro Rail Transit Corporation (MRTC) operational control and ownership remains a contentious issue that impedes the future development of the MRT.

"The MRT system's corporate structure is a mess," Escudero said. "Until now, the issue as to who has the right to what, what the government's rights are under the BLT (build-lease-transfer) contract has yet to be settled."

He added that that even during the past administrations, the government and the MRTC have been at loggerheads as to who should shoulder the acquisition of additional new trains.

"Apparently for 12 years, the MRTC and the government stared at each other. When the government finally decided to buy new trains, the private counterpart filed an injunction to the detriment of the riding public," he added.

With the lifting of the temporary restraining order (TRO) sought by the MRTC to stop the DOTC from purchasing new trains, Escudero expressed optimism that there will be no legal challenges along the way.

"Now that the TRO is already lifted, the DOTC has already given a notice to proceed to the train manufacturer in China. New trains will start coming in February of 2015, every month from then on there will be train deliveries. We hope the DOTC can really deliver on its schedule and not be stymied by one reason or another," he said.

According to Escduero, he will introduce a legislation that will require the posting of surety or cash bonds from parties who will seek injunctions against an ongoing government project.

He said these bonds will be equivalent to the amount added to the actual project cost as a result of the delay and should also cover the economic losses of the government arising from the delay.

"The government currently has fiscal spaces, the transportation agency should take advantage of this and deliver the much needed improvement to our public transport system and provide relief to the riding public,” Escudero said.

According to MRT officials, the MRT is only designed to handle 350,000 passengers daily, but the current number of passengers has already reached 500,000 explaining the long queues. (Camille P. Balagtas/Sunnex)

Local news

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