Poe: Junking of graft charges vs Abaya, others a 'slap in the face of Filipino commuters’ | Inquirer News
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Poe: Junking of graft charges vs Abaya, others a ‘slap in the face of Filipino commuters’

/ 05:11 PM January 12, 2021

MANILA, Philippines — Senator Grace Poe on Tuesday called the dismissal of the graft charges against former Transportation Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya and several others over the government’s P4.2 billion Metro Rail Transit 3 (MRT-3) maintenance contract “a slap in the face of thousands of Filipino commuters.”

Poe, who chairs the Senate committee on public services, said it was disheartening to learn that the Ombudsman decided to let off the chief architects of the highly anomalous MRT-3 maintenance contract.

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The case was in connection with the government’s P4.2-billion Metro Rail Transit 3 (MRT-3) maintenance contract with Busan Joint Venture and Busan Universal Rail, Inc (BURI) under the Aquino administration.

“This is indeed a slap in the face of the thousands of Filipino commuters who suffered for years due to the failure of public officials to dispense their duty. May nagpabaya kaya nagdusa ang sambayanan,” Poe said in a statement.

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Poe said by choosing not to hold the respondents accountable, the government may be “sending the wrong message here – that graft is not a serious criminal offense, that corruption is excusable, that the people’s call for accountability will ultimately fall on deaf ears.”

“We could only hope that this decision will not embolden crooks and hooligans to make a money-making venture out of the government. We should be purging them, not absolving them at the slightest opportunity,” Poe said.

In its 51-page decision signed by Ombudsman Samuel Parties on November 9, 2020, Abaya and 16 other public and private respondents—Edwin Lopez, Rene Limacaoco, Catherine Jennifer Francis Gonzales, Roman Buenafe, Camille Alcaraz, Ofelia D. Astrera, Charissa Eloisa Julia Opulencia, Oscar B. Bongon, Jose Rodante Sabayle, Eldonn Ferdinand Uy, Elizabeth Velasco, Belinda One Tan, Brian Velasco, Antonio Borromeo, Jun Ho Hwang, and Elpidio Silvestro Uy—were cleared of graft charges in connection with the MRT-3 deal.

According to the Ombudsman, the problems hounding the MRT-3 railway operations appear to be in the implementation stage of the long-term maintenance contract, involving issues that were not present during the screening, negotiation, and bidding process.

The Ombudsman added that based on the records, the Busan JV/BURI had already been penalized for the problems that cropped up in implementing the project through deductions in their payments under the contract and subsequently, pre-termination of the contract.

This sets aside the decision made by Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales, who found probable cause to charge Abaya and the other respondents for violation of Section 3(e) of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, back in 2018.

Back then, the Ombudsman’s special panel of investigators found that the respondents “extended unwarranted benefits, advantage and preference” to Busan Universal Rail Inc. of Busan Joint Venture despite being “ineligible” and “unqualified.”

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“It is unclear at this point how the reversal affects the findings of facts in the earlier resolution – that the suspicious award was made despite BURI’s clear ‘lack of eligibility and qualifications’ at a time when the grantee was not even incorporated and for which a respondent official even helped facilitate,” Poe said.

“We lauded such decision because it is consistent with the findings of the Senate Committee on Public Services that there are indeed ‘badges of negligence and inactions of the DOTr officials led by Abaya indicating insensitivity, callous indifference and acts disadvantageous to the commuters, to the Filipino public and to the government with regard to the malfunction problem of the MRT,’” the senator added. [ac]

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