Poe to invite Roxas to next Senate hearing on MRT3 mess

MANILA, Philippines – Almost 5 years have gone by since his stint at the Department of Transportation (DOTr), but former secretary Manuel Roxas II still cannot get out of the shadows of the Metro Rail Transit Line 3 (MRT3). His former election rival, Senator Grace Poe, is making sure of that.

Poe, chairperson of the Senate committee on public services, is set on inviting Roxas to the next hearing into the MRT3 mess in August.

Since former MRT3 general manager Al Vitangcol implicated Roxas in the dubious maintenance deal with PH Trams, Poe said it is just right that Roxas explain his side.

"Dahil nga nabanggit ang kanyang pangalan ng ilang beses at siya ay opisyal na nakaupo nung nag-lapse ang [maintenance] contract, dapat lamang na pumunta siya rito at ipapatawag natin," Poe told reporters on Tuesday, May 23.

(Because his name was mentioned several times and he was an official when the maintenance contract lapsed, it is just right that he goes here and we will invite him.)

The MRT3's contract with maintenance provider Sumitomo lapsed on October 19, 2012. It was replaced, without public bidding, by PH Trams, whose incorporator is Marlo dela Cruz, a supposed Liberal Party ally.

Poe also alleged that PH Trams was awarded the contract even if it was just newly incorporated and had a measly sum as capital.

Vitangcol reiterated in Tuesday's hearing that he repeatedly gave reminders to Roxas months before the Sumitomo contract's expiration date. He had also presented this argument in his motion before the Supreme Court.

First, Vitangcol said, he wrote a letter on May 17, 2012, but there was never a response. He took the chance to personally remind Roxas on July 20, but again to no avail.

He also said the MRT3's private owner, MRT Corporation (MRTC), wrote a letter to Roxas in July, informing him of the nearing contract expiration. MRTC supposedly offered to secure the maintenance provider, which would be good for 5 years.

But Vitangcol claimed they got no response from the transportation secretary until two weeks before the contract lapsed.

In the end, with no more time for public bidding, PH Trams was awarded the contract despite questions on its business integrity.

"Kaya nga eh parang nananadya eh. Ano ba ito, sinadya o naging pabaya? 'Yung dalawang bagay na 'yun, kasalanan 'yun. Paglabag 'yun sa iyong responsibilidad bilang kalihim. Mabigat na paratang ito," Poe said after the hearing.

(Yeah, it looks like they really meant to do it. What is this, was it intentional or they're just incompetent? Those two matters are major sins. That's a violation of your responsibility as secretary. That's a serious accusation.)

Roxas has to explain

In the previous hearing, Roxas' successor at the DOTr, Joseph Emilio Abaya, admitted not knowing the details of the contract he signed just 3 days in office.

Abaya said he decided to sign the contract because the MRT3 could not afford having no maintenance provider.

Poe, connecting the dots, said Roxas has some explaining to do. (READ: Poe blames Roxas for MRT3 mess)

"Dahil sinabi ni Al Vitangcol na nagpadala ng liham, may pruweba daw siya na nagpadala kay Secretary Mar Roxas, gusto natin malaman kay Secretary Roxas bakit pinabayaan ang lapse ng contract ng Sumitomo at 'di pinayagan ang proper bidding habang siya'y nakaupo. Iniwan niya kay Secretary Abaya na pumirma ng kasunduan, tatlong araw pa lang pinirmahan niya na," Poe said.

(Because Al Vitangcol sent him a letter, he supposedly has proof that he sent it to Secretary Mar Roxas, we want to know from Secretary Roxas why he allowed Sumitomo's contract to lapse and why he did not allow proper bidding. He left it to tha hands of Secretary Abaya to sign the contract, when Abaya was just 3 days in office.)

DOTr Undersecretary for Rails Cesar Chavez, for his part, said during the hearing that the problems with the MRT3 started even before the Aquino administration. He said he is aware of that because he was deputy administrator of the Light Rail Transit Authority from 2004 to 2010.

Poe and Roxas were bitter rivals in the 2016 presidential elections. The Liberal Party (LP) had tried to convince Poe to run as Roxas' running mate, but Poe decided to aim for the presidency instead.

Poe repeatedly slammed Roxas and the LP during the campaign period, accusing them of spearheading the disqualification cases against her.

During the last week of the campaign, when then-Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte was emerging as the strongest contender, Roxas invited Poe to discuss who was going to back down. The senator, however, refused the invitation. Roxas placed 2nd in the presidential race while Poe ranked 3rd. – Rappler.com

Camille Elemia

Camille Elemia is a multimedia reporter focusing on media, technology, and disinformation.