• Vitangcol: Media has unjustly pilloried me

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    Metro Rail Transit 3 General Manager Al Vitangcol on Thursday submitted to the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) the documents which he said will clear him of allegations he was involved in an attempt to extort $30 million from a Czech company.

    In his first statement since he was implicated in the extortion attempt, Vitangcol said (I have) been unjustly pilloried in the media by individuals who have come out with stories that are purely based on hearsay and devoid of any valid substantiation.”

    The controversy was first published by The Manila Times through a series written by the paper’s Chairman Emeritus Dr. Dante A. Ang.

    Vitangcol said he has “voluntarily refrained from airing my side in public in due deference to the orderly investigation of the matter.”

    The documents he submitted to DOTC Secretary Joseph E.A. Abaya “will show me innocent of any wrongdoing. I would hope then that the media will help me clear my name with the same passion and zeal that some people have come out with baseless and malicious accusations against me,” he said.

    Vitangcol said he filed for a leave of absence from July 24 until August 23 “to remove any doubt that may be cast on the fairness and impartiality of the investigation to be conducted regarding the alleged attempt to extort money from the Inekon Group in return for the award to them of the contract to purchase additional trams for the MRT.”

    The DOTC inquiry will look closely at the claim of Czech Ambassador Josef Rychtar that Vitangcol and some MRT officials demanded $30 million from Inekon, a Czech company, so it could clinch the contract to provide several coaches for the MRT 3 line.

    Rychtar named the people with Vitangcol as Jose Perpetuo Lotilla, Rene Limcaoco, Catherine Gonzales and Jaime Feliciano Gonzales.

    The names of Presidential sister Ballsy Aquino-Cruz and her husband Eldon were dragged into the issue. But in a letter to President Benigno Aquino 3rd, Rychtar said the couple was not involved.

    The ambassador also said Inekon has been blacklisted by the DOTC, a claim that has been denied by Malacañang and Abaya.

    The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said it will also investigate the envoy’s allegations.

    A congressional inquiry as well is being sought by party-list lawmakers.

    In their House Resolution 112 Bayan Muna’s Neri Colmenares and Carlos Zarate asked the House Committee on Good Government and Public Accountability to do the probe.

    The MRT contract was for the purchase of 48 cars for MRT-3.

    “[E]arlier reports say that one of the Ambassador’s complaints is the non-action of Palace officials to their letters regarding the said extortion attempts by the DOTC officials. We start with Ambassador Rychtar, MRT officials including Vitangcol, then we take it from there,” Colmenares said in a separate text message to The Times.

    On Thursday the DFA spokesman said Rychtar was never told to stop issuing statements regarding the extortion attempt.

    “We cannot gag any ambassador of a sovereign state so having said that, we cannot order a gag on the ambassador [Rychtar],” Raul Hernandez said.

    Hernandez also said he wasn’t privy to what was taken up during the meeting between the Czech envoy and Foreign Affairs officials.

    Rychtar was summoned to the DFA to substantiate his claims. Sources said Ma. Zeneida Angara-Collinson, assistant secretary for European Affairs, was the one who faced the ambassador.

    “I don’t have the details but the ambassador honored the invitation of the DFA to come here and to discuss the issue. I think it will suffice to say at this point, this issue is now being looked into by the concerned government agencies,” Hernandez said.

    “When we invite ambassador, they always come and that is their duty to visit the DFA every now and then,” he added.

    With a report by Bernice Camille V. Bauzon

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