Poe: PH needs better DOTC chief
THE COUNTRY should have a better Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) chief, according to Sen. Grace Poe after grilling Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya over delays in the improvement of the Metro Rail Transit 3 (MRT 3), including the delivery of new coaches, and the rehabilitation of elevators and toilets.
Poe supported the idea of Abaya being replaced, but she did not categorically call for his resignation.
“I think we deserve a better DOTC secretary. Secretary Abaya is very intelligent, but I think we need someone who is not just competent. We need someone who would focus on the project so that deliveries would be on time,” Poe told reporters.
She also said that not replacing Abaya because there was only a few months left in the Aquino administration would be tantamount to saying his actions were acceptable.
At a Senate hearing on MRT issues Monday, Poe challenged Abaya’s and other DOTC officials’ explanations for the problems encountered in the procurement of new trains, the hiring of a competent maintenance service provider and even the improvement of toilet facilities in MRT stations that would take months to complete.
Abaya said the procurement law was a good law as it helped prevent corruption and opportunities to exploit the system, but it nevertheless resulted in some delays in delivery.
“Legislators should evaluate. Should we loosen now that we have improved governance, the procurement law so as to take on the delivery component of public service, or should we continue to be strict and allow the delivery to be a little bit hampered?” he said.
Improvements next year
But Abaya also said improvements in MRT services could be expected in the first quarter of next year with the delivery of 16 new trains from Dalian Locomotive and Rolling Stock Company by the end of the year.
The DOTC would also soon award the three-year maintenance service contract for the MRT, he added.
But Poe did not completely buy Abaya’s explanations. She said the procurement law was just one factor for the problems encountered in the MRT.
“I think they all add up. Some are just [matters of] common sense,” she told reporters.
She cited DOTC statements that it was a good law for reducing corruption and inefficiency, but pointed to what happened regarding the maintenance service provider for the MRT 3.
She said the DOTC dropped the former provider, Sumitomo, to choose the joint venture of PH Trams and CB&T. PH Trams was undercapitalized and untested.
“It even served as a hindrance to improving the trains,” she said.
“It’s like a car. If you don’t do the oil change correctly, the breakdown of the other parts of the engine would follow,” she added.
As to Abaya’s explanation that Sumitomo was dropped because it was charging a higher amount for MRT maintenance, Poe said the subsequent service provider was a failure, so it was a case of saving money the wrong way.
A bigger problem was created, even not counting the struggles of commuters who take the MRT, she added.
As for the delivery of the new trains, she questioned why Dalian was allowed to deliver these without the engines. Without engines, the trains could not be tested, she said.
And before the trains could be tested, defective MRT tracks would have to be repaired first, she added. There are 7,000 meters of rails that need to be replaced.
Abaya said the trains with engines would be delivered by the end of the year and these would be tested before deployment.
Poe also questioned DOTC officials on the delay in the improvement of the toilets, which would take about three months.
MRT 3 General Manager Roman Buenafe said the rehabilitation was taking some time because there were different suppliers for the components of the women’s toilets.
Buenafe said the separate procurement was done under the “Kayo ang Boss Ko (KBK)” program.
Abaya said the KBK was a DOTC program and covered not just MRT 3 but items for other offices under the department. It was thought that if the items were mass-procured, there would be efficiency in deliveries and costs, he said.
But Poe said this had not been the case. “Obviously, it shows the opposite.”
She noted that the MRT bathrooms only needed some fixing up; there was no need to build a new facility from scratch.
Abaya replied that procurement realities continue to remain a challenge.
Poe also noted that the rehabilitation of elevators and escalators was also behind schedule. She said the rehabilitation of these elevators could have been done in increments earlier.
There was a P50-million allocation for MRT 3 escalators and elevators in the 2015 budget, and another P50 million in the supplemental budget, she noted.
Abaya, a former Cavite representative, said there had been failures in bidding, hence the delay.
In the House of Representatives, two of Abaya’s former colleagues believe that firing the Liberal Party president would be “counterproductive.”
Isabela Rep. Rodolfo “Rodito” T. Albano III said calls for the resignation of Abaya were a “knee-jerk reaction” to the
“tanim-bala” (bullet-planting) controversy surrounding the airport security management under his watch.
“It is counterproductive and foolish to remove Secretary Abaya from office. He is right now on top of major multibillion peso infrastructure projects,” Albano said.
The projects include the linking of the North and South Expressways to decongest Metro Manila traffic; modernization and improvement of the MRT with 48 new coaches expected to arrive in the next three months; new international airports under construction in Mactan, Cebu, Puerto Princesa City and Bohol, and other domestic airport modernization projects; Manila North Harbor and container port improvements and other domestic ports; expansion of the MRT and LRT to Cavite and Tanay, Rizal.
Deputy Speaker Giorgidi Aggabao said Abaya had borne the brunt of the criticisms against the administration because “few other Cabinet members have faced so many simultaneous crises as him.”
“Secretary Abaya is a good and intelligent man trying to do his best. Certainly, all the problems will not be magically washed away but with Secretary Abaya at the helm of DOTC, it is still truly possible that change would come albeit, calmly with a steady hand.” With a report from Gil C. Cabacungan
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