LAWMAKERS warned top officials of the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) led by Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya not to disregard invitations for them to appear and shed light on the alleged attempt to extort $30 million from a Czech company that had expressed interest in supplying Metro Rail Transit (MRT) coaches.
Upon the motion of Rep. Andres Salvacion of Leyte, the House committee on good government and public accountability moved to compel Abaya, MRT general manager Al Vitangcol, MRT Chairman Thomas de Leon and Czech Republic Ambassador to the Philippines Josef Rychtar to attend the next hearing.
The officials did not show up on Tuesday’s hearing, prompting Salvacion to make the motion.
The lawmaker said the officials’ continued disregard of their invitation was a sign of disrespect to the panel, headed by Rep. Oscar Rodriguez of Pampanga.
Salvacion stressed that the House has been very lenient to invited resource persons.
The hearing was an offshoot of the twin resolutions filed at the House of Representatives by Rep. Toby Tiangco of Navotas and Reps. Carlos Isagani Zarate and Neri Colmenares of Bayan Muna party-list.
Dr. Dante Ang, chairman emeritus of The Manila Times, first wrote about Rychtar’s allegations that DOTC officials tried to extort $30 million from Czech-based Inekon Group in exchange for a contract to supply 48 new trains to the MRT. Details of the incident were published in a series of articles written by Ang.
In yesterday’s hearing, two opposition lawmakers debated whether or not the House committee should proceed with its inquiry.
Rep. Silvestre Bello 3rd of 1-BAP party-list, a former justice secretary and member of the House opposition bloc, said the committee should leave the investigation of the issue to the Department of Justice, pointing out that too many congressional investigations in aid of legislation have caused delays in the delivery of justice.
“We must not lose track of our duty that justice is done without delay. Na de-delay ang mga kaso dahil sa imbestigasyon natin. Maraming magnanakaw ang nakakalusot kasi sa delay sa disposition ng cases [ Cases are delayed because of our investigations.
Many thieves evade arrest because of the delay in the disposition of cases] and we should not be a party to that,” Bello said.
But Colmenares, a leader of the House minority bloc, vehemently opposed Bello’s proposal and said it was “unacceptable.”
“For Congress not to investigate is not acceptable to us. Whatever the DoJ recommends, trabaho nating tingnan ang mga batas [it is our duty to examine the laws],” Colmenares said.
Rep. Rodel Batocabe of Ako Bicol party-list said Congress cannot compel Rychtar to attend congressional hearings because he has diplomatic immunity. However, he supported the positions of Tiangco, Colmenares and Salvacion for the committee to proceed with its inquiry into the alleged extortion attempt.