Graft charges vs DOTC chief Abaya, 20 others over MRT3 deal

MANILA, Philippines – Transportation Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya, former Metro Rail Transit 3 (MRT3) General Manager Al Vitangcol III, and 19 others were charged with graft over an alleged anomalous contract for the state-run transit system.

In a complaint filed before the Ombudsman Thursday, September 25, the Ombudsman Field Investigation Office (FIO) alleged that Abaya and Vitangcol are criminally liable for awarding an MRT3 interim maintenance contract without public bidding.

The 6-month contract was awarded to Philippine Trans Rail Management and Services Corporation-Comm Builders and Technology Philippines Corporation (PH Trams-CB&T) through what the Ombudsman called an unjustified negotiated procurement.

"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 Ombudsman said in a statement.

Representatives of PH Trams-CB&T, among them Wilson De Vera, Arturo Soriano, Marlo Dela Cruz, Manolo Maralit and Federico Remo, were named as co-accused.

With the complaint filed by the FIO, the Ombudsman will now conduct its preliminary investigation to determine if there is probable cause to file a case in court.

The FIO found the DOTC maintenance deal to be irregular as one of the companies in the joint venture, PH Trams, was only two months old with a paid-up capital of merely P625,000 ($13,961*).

The probe body also found records from the National Statistics Office linking Vitangcol to PH Trams incorporator Arturo Soriano who is the uncle of his wife. 

Other charges

Abaya downplayed the matter, saying "there is no reason to fear any investigation" and vowed to fully cooperate with investigators.

"We will cooperate fully with the investigation of the Office of the Ombudsman, just as we have with investigations undertaken by different branches and agencies of government, such as the Senate, the House of Representatives, and the National Bureau of Investigation," Abaya said in a statement.

Abaya, who said his department remains committed in eradicating corruption, also faces administrative charges with 15 others for grave misconduct and conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service.

Vitangcol and 5 others also face criminal charges for violation of the Government Procurement Reform Act or Republic Act 9184.

He was sued for two separate charges on Thursday that did not name Abaya as defendant.

In June, Vitangcol was sued over an alleged bribery attempt in connection with an MRT3 capacity expansion project. PH Trams representative De Vera was Vitangcol's supposed liaison in the alleged extortion try.

Defendants holding various positions 

Abaya's and Vitangcol's co-defendants in their primary graft complaint include members of the DOTC Bids and Awards Committee (BAC) at the time of the contract, Light Rail Transit Authority Administrator Honorito Chaneco, members of the MRT negotiating team, and PH Trams-CB&T representatives.

Most of the individuals charged are still holding key positions in DOTC and in other government agencies. Former DOTC Undersecretary and BAC member Rafael Antonio Santos was appointed in March 2014 as Court of Appeals justice. (READ: Mar Roxas' ally among 3 new CA justices)

PH Trams incorporator Soriano is currently the provincial accountant of Pangasinan. – Rappler.com

*$1 = P44.76