Resigned Metro Rail Transit 3 (MRT 3) General Manager Al Vitangcol 3rd and Wilson de Vera are not spared from another investigation over an allegedly anomalous maintenance deal for the train system, this time for alleged violation of Section 3(e) of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act.
On Thursday, the Office of the Ombudsman ordered a preliminary investigation and administrative adjudication against Vitangcol and top executives of the Department of Transportation and Communications, including DOTC Secretary Joseph Abaya and Land Rail Transit Authority (LRTA) Administrator Honorito Chaneco.
In June this year, Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales approved a preliminary investigation and administrative adjudication against Vitangcol and de Vera, in connection with the P3.76-billion MRT 3 capacity expansion project, prompted by news reports on Vitangcol’s alleged extortion try on Czech company Inekon group in exchange for being awarded the supply contract for MRT 3 trains.
The Manila Times’ Chairman Emeritus Dante Ang was the first to report about the meetings held between Inekon officials and Vitangcol.
De Vera, the alleged broker in the extortion attempt, is out of the country.
The June probe involved alleged dishonesty, grave misconduct, conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service, and violations of Section 3 (b) of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act and Section 7(d) of the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees.
The probe ordered on Thursday also covered DOTC Bids and Awards Committee (BAC) members namely Undersecretaries Jose Perpetuo Lotilla, Rene Limcaoco, Rafael Antonio Santos and Assistant Secretaries Ildefonso Patdu and Dante Lantin; negotiating team members and lawyer Geronimo Quintos, engineers Joel Magbanua, Gina Rodriguez and Raphael Lavides, Misael Narca, Eugene Cecilio, Arnel Manresa and Natividad Sansolis and representatives from the joint venture of the Philippine Trans Rail Management and Services Corporation-Comm Builders and Technology Philippines Corporation (PH Trams-CB&T) that include de Vera, Arturo Soriano, Marlo dela Cruz, Manolo Maralit and Federico Remo.
Vitangcol, de Vera, Soriano, dela Cruz, Maralit and Remo face a separate set of charges for violations of Sections 3(e) and 3(h) of of the Anti-Graft Law and violation of Section 65(c)(1) of the Government Procurement Reform Act.
Aside from the criminal charges, charges for grave misconduct and conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service have also been filed against Abaya, Lotilla, Limcaoco, Santos, Patdu, Lantin, Chaneco, Narca, Magbanua, Manresa, Sansolis, Rodriguez, Cecilio, Lavides, Quintos and Arturo Soriano, now provincial accountant of the province of Pangasinan.
Vitangcol left MRT 3 in May 2014.
The complaint filed by the Field Investigation Office (FIO) alleged that a maintenance deal for the trains was forged in December 1997 between the MRT Corp. (MRTC) as facility owner and the Sumitomo Corp. for safe and proper operations of MRT 3, including provision for labor and supervision.
The original maintenance agreement between MRTC and Sumitomo expired on June 2010 and had undergone four extensions until October 2012, a statement from the anti-graft body said.
“Documents gathered by Ombudsman investigators show that 15 days prior to the expiration of the last extension, the BAC adopted a resolution undertaking the procurement of an interim maintenance provider for six months and to negotiate its terms and conditions,” it added.
The Ombudsman said in October 2012, the negotiating team recommended that the project be awarded to PH Trams-CB&T joint venture in the amount of US$1.15 million monthly.
Subsequently, the project was awarded to PH Trams-CB&T “without public bidding.”
“The field investigators found no emergency situation that would justify the negotiated procurement, given that as early as 2010 the MRTC transferred the responsibility for the procurement of the technical maintenance to the DOTC,” the Office of the Ombudsman said.
It noted that Securities and Exchange Commission records reveal that PH Trams was barely two months old when the project was awarded, because it was incorporated only on August 6, 2012 with a paid-up capital of P625,000.
Also, National Statistics Office records establish that Vitangcol is related by affinity to PH Trams incorporator Arturo Soriano, his uncle-in-law.
The FIO complaint said as early as October 2012, Sumitomo wrote DOTC on the technically critical issues that require urgent and immediate action focusing on parts shortage in the automated fare collection system, signaling system and passenger overload.
“Joint venture member CB&T also has a separate criminal case pending with the Office of the Ombudsman for under-delivery of labor input required in the LRT [Light Rail Transit] Line 1 system,” it noted.