PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte said he won’t fire Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade despite the almost daily malfunctions and breakdowns plaguing the Metro Rail Transit 3 (MRT-3).
Speaking to reporters in Taguig City on Tuesday, Duterte said Tugade, his law school classmate, had his “full trust” despite growing calls for the Cabinet official’s resignation.
Asked if he would fire Tugade, the President said: “I will not do that. I have full trust in Tugade that he can correct the mistakes there. I will be resisting the call.”
Duterte contradicted Palace spokesman Harry Roque who earlier told reporters the President had a firm stance against incompetent government officials.“I will not speculate. But I think the track record of the President speaks for itself. It does not matter if you’re closest to him. If he thinks you should go, you will go,” Roque said in a news conference.
But at the same time, Roque quoted Tugade as saying that the MRT-3 system would undergo a “revamp” under the Duterte administration.
The Department of Transportation (DoTr) recently terminated the contract the previous Aquino government had struck with MRT maintenance provider Busan Universal Rail Inc. (BURI) following successive breakdowns in the operations of the train system.
Roque admitted the decision of the administration to terminate the contract with BURI created a “legal quicksand,” noting that “although you can unilaterally rescind [a contract], you do so at the risk of being overruled by the courts.”
Roque to ride MRT ‘once a week’
The DoTr has also filed plunder and graft complaints against Cabinet members of the Aquino administration over the same issue (see story on A2).
“On the positive steps taken to improve MRT-3, he (Tugade) assured me number one, that they are going to procure a reliable maintenance contractor; number two, they’re building new rails. They’re buying new train cars and new signaling system. They are in other words revamping almost completely the MRT,” Roque said.
He, however, said the government does not want to impose a deadline in addressing the frequent technical glitches and capacity issues of MRT-3.
The Palace official instead offered to ride the train so he could see the problems firsthand.
“I wish I could give you a deadline. All that I can offer you is I can offer once a week to take MRT coming to work… I can do that so that I can complain personally to the MRT people. Maybe I’ll do that once a week. I’ll do that,” Roque said.
Under the previous administration, former transportation chief Joseph Abaya also took the MRT to conduct a “safety visit” amid glitches experienced by the train system but drew flak for seeking publicity out of it.
Abaya a ‘scapegoat’
Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon on Tuesday said that the DoTr was just using former transport officials as scapegoats amid its failure to come up with solutions to the MRT-3 mess.
“After almost one year and a half, I suggest to the Department of Transportation that they stop looking for scapegoat and start looking for solutions,” said Drilon in reaction to the filing of plunder complaint against nine former Cabinet officials for their involvement in an allegedly anomalous ₱3.8-billion MRT-3 maintenance contract.
Sen. Grace Poe said that she expected the Ombudsman would act expeditiously on the case because every delay would mean distress for the riding public.
“We can only achieve justice for our people by making those responsible for their woes accountable,” said Poe, who heads the Senate Committee on Public Services.
She also expressed belief that the DOTr had exercised due diligence on the BURI contract.
Poe noted that the Senate investigation conducted on the issue had revealed that the award to BURI was anomalous and disadvantageous to the public.
“There were individuals who appeared to have favored an incompetent maintenance provider and in mismanaging the train system,” she said.
WITH JEFFERSON ANTIPORDA