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Palace: We can’t blame increase in population on Vitangcol

A throng of passengers wait to board a newly arrived MRT train at the Taft Avenue station in Pasay City on Saturday afternoon, April 5, 2014. Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma has rejected demands that President Aquino sack MRT GM Al Vitangcol for worsening conditions at the MRT, blaming the “increase in population.” PHOTO BY RICK ALBERTO

MANILA, Philippines—Instead of telling Al Vitangcol to shape up or ship out, Malacañang on Thursday defended the Metro Rail Transit (MRT) general manager against his critics.

Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma rejected demands that President Aquino sack Vitangcol for worsening conditions at the MRT.

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Coloma insisted that the congestion at MRT stations “comes from the natural increase in population and the propensity of commuters to use a particular mode of public transportation over another.”

“The increase in population, can you blame that on Mr. Vitangcol?” a visibly irked Coloma asked in Filipino in a press conference. “It seems a bit overreaching to blame everything on one official.”

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Coloma did not like the idea of disgruntled commuters staging a rally and asking for Vitangcol’s head.

“There’s a process for that. What will happen to our country if one just needs to organize a mass action, demand the head [of one official] and it will be granted? I don’t think that’s the mark of a civilized society and a good democracy,” he said.

Coloma encouraged commuters to consider other modes of transportation until the government acquires more train coaches to accommodate the huge volume of passengers.

“Perhaps, it’s time to look at other options while we’re waiting for the arrival of new coaches,” he said, adding that there are “thousands of passenger buses” plying Epifanio de los Santos Avenue (Edsa).

“Those buses are not full,” he said.

Vitangcol earlier promised that “commuters will feel the convenience of taking the MRT” when the new coaches arrive by late 2015 or early 2016.

Extort try

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Aside from the terrible conditions at the MRT, Vitangcol is also under scrutiny for allegedly attempting to extort $30 million from a Czech train maker that wanted to join the auction of a contract for 48 new coaches for the MRT in 2012.

A National Bureau of Investigation probe into the allegations has been expanded to include Vitangcol and other people mentioned in the disclosures of Czech Ambassador to the Philippines Josef Rychtar and Inekon Group CEO and chair Josef Husek.

Vitangcol, who has denied the allegations, was earlier cleared by a separate Department of Transportation and Communications inquiry, which reportedly got no formal written complaint from Rychtar.

Rychtar instead submitted an affidavit to the NBI detailing the alleged extortion attempt.

In his affidavit, Rychtar said Wilson de Vera, a member of the President’s Liberal Party, behaved like he was Vitangcol’s “envoy” as he suggested that Inekon pay $30 million to win the contract for the 48 coaches for the MRT.

Not yet cleared

“The allegations against them could not be easily dismissed, though no money changed hands,” an NBI source told the Inquirer on Thursday.

Vitangcol has not yet been cleared of the charges leveled against him by Rychtar and Husek, said the source, who asked not to be identified, as he had no authority to speak to reporters.

“The names that were mentioned in the affidavits of the complainants were linked to Vitangcol and their connection should be established, if there’s any,” the source said.

Rychtar invited

He said the people whose names were mentioned in Rychtar’s and Husek’s affidavits—among them a “Boyet Bocar,” a “Cris Maralit” and De Vera—would be invited to the expanded investigation.

The Office of the Ombudsman has again invited Rychtar to shed light on the extortion attempt on Inekon.

A letter dated April 8, 2014, and signed by Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales was sent to the Czech Embassy on Thursday.

According to the Ombudsman’s office, Rychtar declined to be interviewed when he was invited by investigators in July last year following his disclosure of the attempted extortion.

Morales, however, reiterated the invitation to Rychtar, as the special panel that she created to look into his charges had already gathered pertinent documents from government agencies concerned in the scandal.—With reports from Nancy C. Carvajal and Cynthia D. Balana

 

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TAGS: Al Vitangcol, Czechoslovakia, extortion, Herminio Coloma, Josef Rychtar, MRT congestion, Overpopulation, Philippines
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