Why spare Abaya? Vitangcol asks Ombudsman
WHY only me?
Sacked Metro Rail Transit (MRT-3) General Manager Al Vitangcol posed this question to the Office of the Ombudsman in his motion for reconsideration on his indictment for graft over the anomalous $11.5 million MRT maintenance contract.
In its indictment, the Ombudsman said Vitangcol is liable for violating the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act and the Government Procurement Act for irregularly awarding the MRT3 contract to the Philippine Trans Rail Management and Services Corp. (PH Trams)-CB&T joint venture where his uncle-in-law is an incorporator.
In his motion, Vitangcol named names who, according to him, should be accountable for the anomalous contract, among them Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya and Undersecretary Jose Lotilla.
Abaya and other transport Cabinet officials were charged by the Ombudsman’s Fact Investigating Office with graft over the MRT contract irregularities. But the Ombudsman in its preliminary investigation failed to find probable cause against Abaya, an ally of President Benigno Aquino III and acting President of the Liberal Party.
“It was just surprising that it was only Vitangcol, on the part of government, that was singled out by this Honorable Office when it wielded the so-called administration of justice. To his mind, this is some sort of selective justice who should be abhorred at all times,” Vitangcol’s motion said.
In a press conference, Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales fumed at criticisms that her office is partisan, saying the Ombudsman is only guided by evidence.
“Nabibwisit na ako ha, everytime I file cases sasabihin politically motivated. I am apolitical. Wala akong pinapanigan,” she said in a July 1 briefing.
In his motion, Vitangcol said the decision to have negotiated bidding with PH Trams instead of public bidding was made by the DOTC and not the MRT Corporation (MRTC).
He added that DOTC Secretary Abaya and Undersecretary Lotilla approved the award of contract to PH Trams.
“The award of the contract was the product of a collegial determination. However, it was subject to the approval of DOTC Undersecretary Lotilla and Secretary Abaya… The contract would not have been awarded to PH Trams and CB&T JV had it not been for the subsequent approval of Lotilla and Abaya,” Vitangcol’s motion said.
“The point here is not to place the blame on the DOTC but to show that the procurement was made on the basis of the decision and directions of the DOTC,” it added.
Vitangcol said the negotiated bidding allowed under the law was due to the emergency situation of an impending end of contract of then maintenance service provider Sumitomo, which then imposed a high fee that would have been disadvantageous to government.
Vitangcol said he was only a member of the negotiating team and the Bids and Awards Committee and did not dictate the direction of the committee to unduly favor PH Trams.
“Vitangcol performed the duties as general manager of MRT-3… It was the DOTC, which decided to proceed with the interim award… It is just unfortunate that Vitangcol suddenly took all the blame in the contract where he is merely a part of the team,” his motion said.
The Ombudsman also found probable cause to charge businessmen Wilson De Vera and Arturo Soriano for graft as incorporators of PH Trams.
De Vera is Vitangcol’s alleged envoy in a purported extort try on Inekon Group CEO and chair Josef Husek at the residence of then Czech Ambassador to the Philippines Josef Rychtar. The alleged bribery involved granting Inekon the P3.7-billion contract to supply 48 coaches for the MRT 3 expansion in exchange for $30 million. Inekon turned down the bribe. The Ombudsman is still investigating the alleged bribery.
Meanwhile, Soriano (now Pangasinan provincial accountant) is the uncle of Soriano’s wife. The Ombudsman said Vitangcol had pecuniary interest in the contract in violation of the antigraft law when he granted the contract to PH Trams where Soriano is an incorporator.
In his motion, Vitangcol said he did not intentionally hide his familial relationship with Soriano.
He added that he could not be faulted for Soriano’s actions in declaring in his 2012 Statement of Assets and Liabilities Networth his business interests in PH Trams despite the latter’s claim that he had divested his shares at the time of the contract.
“If assuming arguendo that Soriano did not truly divest himself from PH Trams, then it is clear that Soriano and PH Trams itself plainly lied to Vitangcol. Vitangcol should not bear the brunt if Soriano lied to him and it should be the latter who should be penalized,” Vitangcol said.
He added that he does not have any pecuniary interest in the contract.
“Vitangcol merely performed his duties and functions…” his motion said.
The other PH Trams incorporators indicted are Marlo Dela Cruz, Manolo Maralit and Federico Remo.
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