The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) summoned Czech Republic’s ambassador to the Philippines Josef Rychtar on Monday morning ostensibly to “shed light on current issues,” The Manila Times learned on Thursday from an unimpeachable source.
The Ambassador met with DFA Assistant Secretary for European Affairs, Maria Zeneida Angara-Collinson.
In the meeting, Collinson invoked protocol and asked the Czech Ambassador to refrain from issuing statements, granting media interviews and talking to other Cabinet secretaries about the alleged $30-million extortion attempt by some government officials and individuals, the source said.
Some two weeks ago, The Manila Times broke the story, “The $30-million extort try: Fact or Fiction.” In its 3-part series, the Times quoted two unimpeachable sources who identified the individuals involved in the alleged illegal demands, named the places where the attempts to exact bribe money happened and narrated the circumstances that led to that deplorable event.
Angara-Collinson also particularly sought to discourage the Ambassador from talking directly to officials of the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) and other government agencies. She asked him to course all official communications to the Philippine government or its agencies through the DFA, the source said quoting Collinson.
Mr. Rychtar however said that neither he nor the Embassy has ever issued a public statement on the $30-million demand. At the same time, the Ambassador aired his displeasure over the statements of some high government officials that undermine his credibility, the source added.
It will be recalled that Presidential Spokesman Edwin Lacierda has issued a challenge to the Czech Ambassador to “cooperate with the investigation” that both the Palace and the DOTC’s Secretary Emilio Abaya told media was being launched. Secretary Abaya, however, has publicly dismissed the Czech Ambassador’s words to media about the $30-million shake down as something that “comes with business interest.”
In a subsequent statement Abaya threatened to sue the Ambassador for perjury even as he defended and stood by his four undersecretaries for their integrity and “impeccable credentials.” Sec. Abaya was however silent about MRT General Manager Al Vitangcol and other individuals whose names have figured prominently in the alleged extortion attempt.
The Times sources said Ambassador Rychtar obliged Collinson when she asked him to recount the alleged $30-million extortion attempt.
He detailed the events, naming places and people who were present at meetings held to try to exact a bribe or commission from the Czech company Inekon, which seeks, with the Czech government’s officials and financial support, to supply technology, materials, coaches and systems to modernize and renovate the MRT3.
The Ambassador told Collinson of the events that led to the deplorable evening when the actual extortion demand was made.
Collinson requested the Ambassador to officially put in writing the incidents behind the $30-million imposition and the individuals involved so that the DFA could take appropriate action, The Times source said.
Mr. Rychtar has reiterated that Inekon, the Czech company that originally supplied the 75 coaches for MRT3, will not participate in any bidding (now and in the future) for as long as the “shenanigans” are in government, The Times source said quoting the Ambassador.
Officials deny gag order
The DFA has not released details of the meeting.
Times reporters have tried to get information from Raul Hernandez, Foreign Affairs spokesman, who only confirmed that the Czech Ambassador did meet with DFA officials but did not say who these were or what was discussed.
Angara-Collinson herself could not be reached.
On Wednesday, Palace spokesman Edwin Lacierda said Vitangcol had gone on leave as a way of cooperating with the DOTC investigation. Asked if Vitangcol was told by the Aquino government to go on leave, Lacierda said, “Sorry, I am not aware of that.”
He asked the public to “wait for the results of the investigation.”
Other Malacanang officials said they were not aware of a gag order either on the DFA or Rychtar.
“As far as we are concerned, there is no gag order,” Palace deputy spokesman Abigail Valte, adding that the government “cannot speak for the Czech Ambassador.”
Lacierda said the government has “no control over Czech ambassador,” saying that he “is not a Filipino government official.”
Like Lacierda, Budget Secretary Florencio Abad denied that there is a gag order.
“The DOTC is investigating the matter. Until its findings are completed, it is prudent
for everyone to await the results before making any statements,” Abad said.
The P3.8-billion MRT 3 expansion project involves the acquisition of 48 new trains. MRT 3 now has 75 Czech-made trains.
Through the expansion, the government hopes to cut waiting time for commuters to 2.5 minutes from three minutes by providing them with four-car trains during peak hours from the present three-car trains.
There were also reports that Inekon was blacklisted after the Czech proposal to the DOTC and MRT management and formal follow-ups by the Czech government were ignored during the last three years.
Czech Ambassador Rychtar has written a letter to President Benigno S. Aquino 3rd, complaining that the DOTC has ignored for the past three years the Czech government’s formal letters complete with technical and financial-arrangement details.
With reports from Bernice Camille V. Bauzon, Catherine S. Valente And Jefferson Antiporda