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Saturday, October 4, 2014

MRTC and DOTC Point Fingers at Senate Hearing

There was a lot of finger-pointing between the MRT Corporation (MRTC) and the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) Wednesday at the Senate hearing that tackled the problems that have been ailing the metro rail system.
Among the issues raised was the controversial change in Metro Rail Transit-3’s (MRT-3) maintenance provider from its long-time contractor Sumitomo to current PH Trams-CB&T joint venture amid the various glitches and service interruptions that has been hitting the metro transport line.
Speaking for the MRT Corporation (MRTC), Fil-Estate Corp. Chairman Roberto Sobrepeña told the Senate Committee on Public Services headed by Senator Grace Poe that the awarding of the contract to PH Trams did not go through bidding.
“PH Trams was basically ‘appointed’ by the DOTC,” Sobrepeña said during interpellation by Sen. Francis “Chiz” Escudero. Fil-Estate is a major equity holder in MRT Holdings II which, in turn, holds a significant stake in MRTC, the private consortium that runs MRT-3.
DOTC Secretary Joseph Abaya, who attended the hearing, denied that an outright designation took place, saying that a “simplified bidding” was carried out. The contract was granted to PH Trams on October 20, 2012. 

“Just to correct (Sobrepeña), we didn’t appoint PH Trams CB&T. It went through a pact, there was an emergency procurement. There was a simplified bid. There were three participants. There was no appointment,” said Abaya, who has been charged with graft before the Office of the Ombudsman over award of the maintenance contract.
Abaya assumed the DOTC post on October 18, 2012, or a day before the Sumitomo contract was set to expire.
The 15-year-old MRT-3 has a daily ridership of half a million people.
Earlier in the hearing, Sobrepeña bared that the Sumitomo contract was supposed to have expired way back in 2010. But instead of putting it up for bidding, the DOTC chose to renew it.
“MRTC had written DOTC that it should start bidding out the maintenance provider because the Sumitomo contract would end in 2010. So it should bid for a long-term agreement and award it to an efficient and qualified maintenance provider,” he said.
But according to Sobrepeña, what DOTC did was it kept renewing the Sumitumo contract instead of bidding it out.
“We renewed it every six months all the way up to 2012,” Sobrepeña said.
Then in October, 2012, the Fil-Estate chair said DOTC decided to abruptly “terminate” the Sumitomo contract and gave the MRTC just 12 days to hold a bid and find a new maintenance provider.
“We had no inkling that they were thinking of terminating this contract,” Sobrepeña said, adding that bid out period of 12 days was simply not possible.
He even suggested that the Sumitomo contract be extended a last time to pave the way for a proper bidding. But the DOTC stuck to its order.
“MRTC declined and refused. Thereafter, we heard that DOTC had already appointed PH-Trams,” the MRTC representative told the panel. 

Abaya, however, said it was the MRTC that had been extending the Sumitomo contract and not the government. Moreover, he claimed that the procurement of a maintenance provider is MRTC’s responsibility.
“We could show you documents that DOTC merely concurred and it was MRTC that was extending (the Sumitomo contract). And the government maintained that the procurement of the maintenance provider never left MRTC,” Abaya said.
Asked by Escudero why the DOTC chose not to renew Sumitomo for six more months and allow MRTC to obtain a new contractor through bidding, Abaya claimed that the maintenance provider “did not want it anymore.”
“We can present you with a letter with Sumitomo, saying, ‘We don’t want it anymore. At that point in time, they were also avoiding the responsibility… for one reason or another they didn’t have enough time; they couldn’t procure anymore and, thus, left it up to government,” said Abaya.
On the extension of Sumitomo from 2010 to 2012, Sobrepeña maintained that DOTC recommended the extension of the Sumitomo contract from 2010 to 2012.
“It is actually DOTC that recommends the extension. This is done by letters from DOTC to MRTC recommending the extension of the Sumitomo contract by six months. We have all the letters on file. So they recommend, we approve,” he said.
Sobrepeña also disputed Abaya’s statement that it was MRTC’s job to get a new maintenance provider, saying the “dynamics changed” in 2010 when a government financial institution (GFI) took over the MRTC Board and made DOTC responsible for maintenance procurement. 

All that finger-pointing between the MRTC and DOTC led Escudero to the conclusion that all the trouble at MRT-3 could have been avoided had all stakeholders been on the same page.
“I think the reason behind the terrible service of the MRT is clear. It’s because of the situation of the owners, the operators and government. Simply put, you cannot get your acts together. At the end of the day the solution of the MRT woes would be for all of you guys to get your acts together,” he said.
“You should sit down and talk instead of filing charges against each other to the detriment of the riding public,” stressed Escudero.
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