Editorial

The charmed state of MRT’s GM Vitangcol

On Wednesday, MRT General Manager Al Vitangcol used the Fernandina Media Forum to make himself appear to be the victim of the “irresponsible” and “speculative” statements “based on hearsay” made by the Czech Republic’s Ambassador Josef Rychtar  about an attempt to extort $30 million from a Czech corporation.

For almost a year now, the media has been reporting on complaints made by the Czech Ambassador about the failure or refusal of Mr. Vitangcol and his bosses, the top officials of the MRT’s supervising government agency, the Department of Transportation and Communication, to deal properly with the Czech government and a state-supported Czech company, Inekon, in the matter of the Czech proposal to supply coaches to MRT and to fund the transaction with a soft loan from the Czech government.

In the Fernandina Forum the only newsworthy element to come out of Mr. Vitangcol was that he was poised to sue Ambassador Rychtar for linking him to the extortion attempt.  Indeed the Ambassador has been speaking to media about the unusual treatment he and his government’s representations to the MRT and the DOTC.  Mr. Vitangcol told reporters at the Fernandina Forum that the Czech envoy has spread false statements.  This is not the first time the MRT and DOTC officials have tried to make the Czech Ambassador seem to be a villain. At one point they even, unjustly and maliciously, attempted to make it appear that it was unseemly or even suspicious that an ambassador should be so concerned with Inekon to win the MRT contract.  They stopped using that line probably because they were made to realize that it is in fact one of Ambassador Rychtar’s duties to help Czech business and industry to win contracts.

At the Fernandina Forum, Mr. Vitangcol spoke of details in a manner that would make someone who knows nothing about the subject believe that Ambassador Rhyctar is an absolute idiot and a liar.  He and DOTC people have also said as much in other occasions.

The facts that The Manila Times has reported show that it is Mr. Vitangcol that must be more honest. We in The Manila Times were the first to break the extort attempt news, in a story by our Chairman Emeritus Dr. Dante A. Ang.

Vitangcol has denied having participated in any extort attempt.  His defense is, as Dr. Ang has written, “pegged on his not being present during that shameful occasion at the residence of the Czech Ambassador [when the extort attempt was voiced]. He is making a big issue of his absence during the alleged $30 million extortion attempt. He said that his absence during that fateful evening is proof that he is innocent of the charge.

“Nobody is disputing that Vitangcol was absent when the alleged $30 million shakedown happened at the residence of the Czech Ambassador.

That was never an issue. At issue is whether or not [Vitangcol’s friend] De Vera had acted for and in Vitangcol’s behalf in allegedly demanding $30 million from Inekon officials. The other two are: Did he blacklist Inekon when it did not accept his proposal for a joint venture initiative with his uncle for the maintenance of the MRT? And, was the awarding of the maintenance contract for the MRT rigged in favor of PH Trams/Comm Builders  & Technology Phils. Corp?

“He has also denied having attended any dinner with the Czech Ambassador, the Inekon officials, Jose Rodriguez, Boy Maralit, Marlo dela Cruz and Wilson de Vera at the plush restaurant in Makati. He has also maintained that he has not met with the envoy and Inekon officials at a coffee shop in Trinoma. In short he has denied having been together with the Ambassador and the Inekon officials outside his office at anytime.

“Maralit, Rodriguez and De Vera, however, have confirmed that Vitangcol was present during the dinner at Carpaccio restaurant in Makati. Now, why would Vitangcol continue to stonewall and deny ever having met the Czech Ambassador for dinner at the Carpaccio restaurant and for coffee at Zuni in Trinoma, Quezon City?”

Despite the existence of  affidavits, letters, personal statements by witnesses, there has been no investigation into Vitangcol’s role in the alleged $30 million extortion attempt. Instead, he was immediately cleared by his superiors because, they said in a ruling that tells a lie that “the Czech ambassador has either failed to submit a signed affidavit or was not cooperative.” But Ambassador Rhyctar submitted a signed affidavit and did cooperate!

The Palace, the DOTC, and the DOJ have all tried to shield Mr. Vitangcol.

He indeed is in a charmed state of untouchability.