Malacañang on Friday urged Czech Ambassador Josef Rychtar to prove his claims implicating Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) officials in an extortion attempt on a Czech company who was trying to land a contract with the Metro Rail Transit (MRT).
News reports, first published by The Manila Times, revealed that officials of the DOTC, MRT and the Czech firm met during the time of secretary Manuel Roxas.
The Czech ambassador said Roxas’ men asked from $2 million to $20 million from Inekon, a Czech train-manufacturing company and a bidder for the supply of trains for the MRT 3.
In a press conference, Palace spokesman Edwin Lacierda said that the government is ready to probe the alleged extortion try if evidence is presented.
Unsubstantiated reports had earlier linked the President’s sister Ballsy to the extortion attempt, all because she and her husband had gone on vacation in the Czech Republic. The reports were eventually proven to be false.
”Our standard response is, give us the evidence we will investigate,” Lacierda said. ”If you look at the story there are no quotes. There are no quotes from the Czech ambassador that’s why it’s important to say—there was a mention of the meeting on July.“
”We are asking the Czech ambassador to—as in any accusation—present us evidence and we will investigate,” he said.
Lacierda denied that Czech-based Inekon was blacklisted in MRT project.
In April, Lacierda said Transportation Secretary Emilio Abaya met with Rychtar and encouraged the Inekon group to bid for the 40 coaches for the MRT-3.
But he said the group purchased bid documents but did not submit their bid.
”The first issue alone was Inekon blacklisted is already not true. Inekon was not blacklisted,” he said.
”There is no reason for us to doubt that this administration purpose is to level the playing field,” Lacierda said, noting that all the transactions are transparent.
”You can always ask the Cabinet secretaries of all the transactions and, like I said, Secretary Jun Abaya is willing to answer,” he said. “I think it’s fairly obvious that their department is being dragged. So it behooves them to issue on their own.”
”The DOTC projects are transparent. You can ask Secretary Jun Abaya. Jun Abaya is a very transparent Cabinet Secretary,” Lacierda added.
Abaya confirmed that Inekon has not been blacklisted.
“There is no blacklist. There is simply no truth to the claim,” said Abaya.
In fact, when Rychtar met with the transport chief in April 2013, Abaya requested him to relay to Inekon that the DOTC was encouraging the firm to participate in the bidding for the MRT project.
During that meeting, Rychtar also raised some concerns regarding the bid, and even requested Abaya to be cautious about the issue.
“We at the DOTC express in the strongest possible terms our commitment to fight corruption at all levels. We will take all the necessary steps to uncover the truth behind these allegations, which remain unsubstantiated at the moment,” Abaya said.
“Opening the project to bidding erases doubts as to any favoritism. I personally felt that the Inekon proposal—which was never formally submitted to the DOTC and which amounted to around $3 million per LRV—could make it appear that favors were being made,” Abaya said.
Notably, the approved estimate for DOTC’s bid was only $1.8 million per LRV, around $1.2 million per LRV less than the indicative amount in the Inekon proposal.
Abaya said he always had authority from President Benigno Aquino 3rd to bring in his own people to DOTC, but that he has found no need to replace the existing team when he came aboard last year.
“Having worked with the current DOTC Undersecretaries, Assistant Secretaries, and members of our Bids and Awards Committees, I vouch for their integrity and good work ethic,” he said.