THE riding public wants to be assured of their safety but no major steps can be taken about that until the government buys out the Metro Rail Transit Line 3 (MRT-3) from its private owners.
And when that will happen depends on the Department of Transportation and Communication headed by DOTC Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya.
This is the only logical conclusion one can get from what MRT-3 acting manager or officer-in-charge Honorito Chaneco told reporters on Thursday.
Asked about the mess MRT-3 is in and what can be done to improve the safety of the trains, Chaneco said, “Kaya nga, the priority is the [government’s] effective buyout of the MRT [from the private owner corporations.]” so that Operation and Maintenance (O&M) contract of the MRT can be bid out.
When ask what is the status? He replied: “Yan ang di ko masasagot, because dun yan sa kanila. [I can’t answer that, because that’s up to them.” By “kanila [them]” he meant the DOTC.
Early this month, DOTC officials said the government has started the buyout of the Metro Rail Transit Line 3 project (MRT-3) even if a decision by an arbitration court in Singapore is still being awaited on the case filed by the private sector railway operator, Metro Rail Transit Corp. (MRTC), against the government.
DOTC Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya had said much earlier, “Currently we are already in an equity value buyout proceeding.”
“We got a resolution from the Land Bank of the Philippines [approving the buyout]and we are awaiting a board resolution from DBP [Development Bank of the Philippines] approving it. Second is, we are awaiting a comment from the OSG [Office of the Solicitor General] again as to the buyout,” Abaya added.
“After which, pipirma kami ng [we will sign a]compromise agreement between the DOTC and MRTC to buy out their shares. Then we submit that to the arbitration panel, then that’s it.”
According to Abaya, the MRT-3 buyout requires the blessing of the arbitration court.
In 2009, the MRTC filed an arbitration case in Singapore against the Philippines over its late payment of equity rentals. It filed another case over the DOTC’s decision to award to a Chinese firm the contract to supply 48 new light rail vehicles for MRT-3.
When asked if a compromise with MRTC is to buy out their shares in MRT-3, Abaya replied: “Yes, that should be approved by the arbitration committee.”
How can he be so sure of that?
He added: “Well, majority of the board is government, LandBank and DBP so pwede yon [that is possible].”
LandBank and DBP hold a combined 80 percent ownership of MRT-3.
Metro Pacific Investments Corp. (MPIC), led by businessman Manny Pangilinan, has a controlling stake of 48 percent in MRTC after he signed cooperation agreements with various groups that hold rights and interests in MRT-3.
The DOTC earlier said that the takeover of MRT-3 by the government is possible this year. Abaya said the Department of Budget and Management has already included the buyout price of P56 billion in the 2014 budget.
In March 2013, President Benigno Aquino 3rd ordered the takeover of MRT-3 to save on huge government subsidies.
The takeover would involve an equity value buyout of all outstanding shares of stock and other securities issued by the MRTC and other entities owning the MRT3 pursuant to a build-lease-transfer agreement.
Relief is in sight?
What about the riding public safety and comfort in MRT trains?
Abaya and DOTC officials some weeks ago also said relief for about 500,000 commuters of the MRT is in sight.
They said that DOTC is speeding up the expansion program for MRT with the acquisition of an additional 48 light rail vehicles (LRVs) to the MRT 3 after the Makati Regional Trial Court junked the injunction case filed by the MRT Holdings II Inc. on February 21 this year.
“The DOTC successfully fought for the public interest and defended its position in court. But the true winners are the riders of MRT-3. The supplier can now start manufacturing the 48 brand new LRVs, which will be delivered in tranches starting in the second half of 2015,” Abaya said earlier.
Upon the dismissal of the case, the DOTC issued the Notice to Proceed with implementation of the contract to Dalian Locomotive and Rolling Stock Co. of China.
The process of awarding the contract to Dalian Locomotive is, however, shadowed with suspicions. No less that resigned former manager of MRT-3 Al Vitangcol was offering to reveal what really happened.
“Our commuters deserve better services at MRT-3 and the addition of more LRVs is long overdue. We are doing all we can to get them here as soon as possible. Dalian has expressed the same commitment to the riding public,” Abaya had said.
Riders in red today
If the call of a civil society organization has gained traction, many riders of the MRT-3 rains will be wearing red clothes today.
James Relativo, spokesman of Train Riders Network (TREN), this is a sign of the commuters’ outrage over the derailment of MRT trains at Taft Avenue in Pasay City on Wednesday afternoon that resulted in 38 riders being injured.
Relativo said the incident constitutes gross negligence of the government and the private Metro Rail Transit Corporation (MRTC) which overseas the maintenance of the trains. The Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) is in-charge of overseeing the operations.
The commuters are suffering so much, Relativo said, especially during rush hours when the queues are very long. Riders endure so much pain during fully packed rides and while waiting to get to the entrance stiles under the “feverish sun” and also get soak when it rains.”
Government has yet to purchase new trains despite the big demand for it.
“The trains have already breached its maximum service capacity of 350,000 in 2006. According to government statistics, 620,000 passengers take the train daily,” said Relativo.
TREN detests the fact that former MRT General Manager Al Vitangcol, who was found to have attempted to extort $30 million in exchange for a contract to acquire newer MRT train carriages, has not been made accountable.
Relativo said Transportation Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya and MRT-3 officer-in-charge Honorito Chaneco should be held criminally accountable for the accident.
“The commuters have long been silently seething in anger due to being denied the services that they have long deserved,” he said.
The management of the Metro Rail Transit (MRT) will investigate the reason why three of their back-up safety plans failed to secure the defective MRT couch that overshot its track.
MRT spokesperson Attorney Hernando Cabrera admitted that all their safety measures failed and said that a factfinding investigation will uncover all possible reasons.
Cabrera revealed that the maintenance contract of MRT 3 is about to be terminated.
In an interview with ANC’s Headstart host Karen Davila, Cabrera said the maintenance contract awarded to Autre Porte Technique Global Inc. (APT) is about to expire.
“If I remember it right, last month na nila ngayon or next month ‘yung kanilang termination,” Cabrera told the program host.
The Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) awarded the one-year maintenance contract for the MRT3 to APT on September 2013.
Meanwhile, the passengers said that the safety officers should have let them get off the defective train first before it was pushed to the next station.
Moreover, some even said that they saw a spark while the train was passing the Magallanes station in Makati City.
Cabrera, however, explained to media that the standard operating procedure of MRT does not include letting its passengers get off their trains between their stations.
“First, the floor clearance is more than a meter and is too high and will require passengers to jump. Second, we cannot let our passengers walk on the railway given that it is made up of Grava and steel barriers which may cause minor injuries. Also the other line was operational and we don’t want to risk anybody getting hit by another train. And fourth, the electric cables carry 750 volts of electricity which may put the lives of our passengers in danger,” Cabrera explained.