In the pork barrel scam, one thing stood out. The cohorts of Janet Napoles in both chambers of Congress repeatedly allocated their SAROs to the Napoles NGOs in exchange for hard cash. The first duffel bag of cash emboldened the legislators to tell Napoles, “more, more, more,” and “Ma’am Janet” giddily obliged.
Discretion, adherence to the law and sound judgment were jettisoned through repeated acts of channeling SAROs into the Napoles NGOs. There is a term for such practices under the government procurement and bidding rules. They are called “repeat orders.” Only, they were of the most fraudulent kind.
At the executive branch, there were deals that stunk of the Napoles pork scam.
These were the MRT maintenance contracts worth over P1 billion which had been awarded by the Department of Transportation and Communication (DOTC) in 2012 and 2013. The words “shady” and “ad hoc” seem to be the kindest terms you can apply to these DOTC awards. They were serial awards of brazen sleaziness and recklessness, acts that civil society cannot square off with the supposed graft-fighting, corruption-busting government of Mr. Aquino.
Below is the ghastly chronology.
We are all familiar with the named Al Vitangcol 3rd, the MRT general manager recently fired for cronyism and incompetence. We now know that in 2012, the DOTC awarded a P517 million MRT maintenance contract to a consortium led by a company called PH Trams. PH Trams was all of these things:
• It was a new company
• It was undercapitalized
• It had no experience whatsoever in maintaining MRT systems, an undertaking that requires the highest of technical skills
• In late 20122, the Securities and Exchange Commission certified that PH Trams was not registered with the SEC
Despite all of these negatives, which in the ideal world would not have even allowed PH Trams to do janitorial and maintenance work, the DOTC awarded to the PH Trams-led consortium the P517 million MRT maintenance contract. The consortium was named PH Trams and CB and T. We are talking here about a MRT system valued at P30 billion.
The worse was yet to come. It was later revealed that three PH Tram incorporators, including Arturo Soriano, Wilson de Vera and Mario de la Cruz, were all cronies of Vitangcol, the then MRT GM. Soriano is an uncle of Vitangcol’s wife who mysteriously got out of PH Trams just before the company he founded got a half a billion peso maintenance contract. Standard-issue Third World sleaze, zero class act.
De Vera and Vitangcol had been exposed by an ambassador as partners in a shake-down operation, an international black eye for a government supposedly dedicated to taking the right path.
After the contract of the PH Trams/CB and T lapsed, with nothing to show for it except decrepit trains that were a danger to human lives, the DOTC, one would assume, shuld have learned from the experience and not commit the same mistake of dealing with the likes of PH Trams again. Instead of learning from the PH Trams affair, the DOTC segued into another dubious award.
The current maintenance work of the MRT covers a P685 million contract which would end in August this year. The awardee and winner in a bidding is a company called Autre Porte Technique Global Inc., or APT Global. It is a fancy-sounding name that invokes track records, solid corporate pedigrees and competence.
You want to know who allegedly signed the maintenance contract on behalf of APT Global? Mario de la Cruz, the same shadowy character who helped establish the PH Trams. Yes, de la Cruz, the Vitangcol crony. There is no ghastlier segue than this one. In this version, Napoles is the DOTC and the favorite clients are the Vitangcol cronies.
Ok, where is the conspiracy angle?
President Aquino should look into allegations that the Japanese maintenance provider until 2012, TES-P-Sumitomo, was eased out of the maintenance contract—despite its decent record—to pave the way for the no-bid award to PH Trams, which until November 2012 was not registered with the SEC. The exit of Sumitomo marked the start of the shoddy maintenance work highlighted by train stoppages, serious accidents, two-hour wait for rides, the MRT system falling into utter shabbiness and rot.
The culprit? The “Incorporated in Pangasinan” maintenance providers.
The DOTC has turned down proposals to have an independent, technical audit of the MRT systems to find out where the technical failures and weak links are.
Despite the plea from experts that the MRT system is now plagued by “metal fatigue” and cannot be efficient under its current state. The DOTC is clearly afraid that the Vitangcol crony firms would be unmasked of their full bogusness by an independent technical audit.
The dubious maintenance awards were kept hidden from the MRTC, the private operator, despite an obligation under the Build Lease Transfer agreement to have the private operator review the maintenance contracts. MRT personnel, this is DOTC at its most petty and absurd, would not even allow the MRTC people entry to the depot and maintenance sites. Was the DOTC afraid that the MRTC knew the cast of characters in those fancy-named companies that snagged the more than P1 billion maintenance contracts and expose them as such?
President Aquino will not mention the MRT mess in his SONA. How will he? How can he? The MRT mess is essentially a story of coziness, cronyism and impunity which would not mesh with his spiels on competence and integrity in government.