Abaya stays amid quit calls
President Aquino is keeping Transportation Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya in the Cabinet despite calls for his dismissal because of the punishing traffic congestion in Metro Manila and other transport woes that the public endures daily.
Talk swirled that Abaya, a former representative of Cavite province and Mr. Aquino’s close political ally, was on his way out when he met with the President Thursday.
Mr. Aquino summoned the beleaguered head of the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) to Malacañang for still undisclosed reasons.
Abaya, acting president of the ruling Liberal Party (LP) that the President heads, said the topic of his resignation was not brought up in his meeting with the President.
“Discussed with him the 48 LRVS and MRT 3,” Abaya said in a phone interview, referring to the new train coaches set to be delivered by the Chinese manufacturer, Dalian Locomotive and Rolling Stock Co., through 2017.
“As I have repeatedly said it is a mere privilege for me to be serving our people,” he said in a text message.
Full support for Abaya
Caloocan Rep. Edgar Erice, political affairs chief of the LP, said the President would keep Abaya in his post until the end of his term on June 30.
“The President and LP are in full support of Abaya staying at the DOTC. We see no reason for his departure because we firmly believe that he has done his best given the situation he is in. Any other person would have fared worse,” Erice said in an interview with reporters at the LP’s Balay headquarters in Quezon City.
Presidential Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. neither confirmed nor denied the unscheduled meeting had something to do with Sen. Grace Poe’s call for the sacking of Abaya, whom she accused of “incompetence” and “shortsightedness” that she warned could endanger the “safety of the riding public.”
Five months an eternity
Poe, an independent presidential aspirant, the other day urged Mr. Aquino “not to wait for Abaya to resign but to replace him immediately.”
The senator said the situation was “critical,” citing the major problems besetting the Metro Rail Transit (MRT), which carries hundreds of thousands of commuters each day.
Poe earlier led Senate inquiries into the MRT 3’s frequent breakdowns on Edsa and the inadequacies of its coaches and station facilities.
Late last year, following delays in the delivery of new MRT coaches and the rehabilitation of elevators and toilets, she said the country “deserves a better DOTC chief.”
“Five months left (in this administration) is an eternity to our riding public. We have endured more than three years of Abaya’s incompetence and shortsightedness,” said Poe, who led the Senate probe of the MRT 3’s frequent breakdowns and inadequacy of its coaches and facilities of stations.
Erice brushed aside suggestions that Abaya would be a liability to the Aquino administration in its last six months and the chances of LP standard-bearer Mar Roxas, who handpicked Abaya as his successor in the DOTC in August 2012.
“We have strong points, and we have weak points. The weak points are part of our makeup and we can live with that,” said Erice.
Clueless on real score
Erice said Poe should be the last person to talk about the MRT because the presidential candidate was clueless on the real score of the commuter train system.
“She (Poe) doesn’t know what she’s talking about. When the MRT was being built, she was still not in the Philippines, she was still an American. I know that issue very well,” the lawmaker said.
Instead of seeking his ejection from the Cabinet, critics like Poe and former MRT General Manager Al Vitangcol III should just file a case against Abaya if they believed the secretary had any shortcomings, Erice said.
He said Abaya did his best given the situation he was in. “I would bet that another person would have done no better or probably even worse,” said Erice who credited Abaya for not backing down against the “syndicate” in MRT.
Erice said the government had not denied that the MRT was beset with a lot of problems but the public must realize that the Aquino administration’s daang matuwid (straight path or good governance) policy didn’t create the problem.
He echoed Roxas’ claim that the MRT’s sorry state could be traced to the “original sin” committed by the Ramos administration when it awarded a 25-year build-operate-transfer contract to MRT Corp. (MRTC), controlled by the Sobrepeña group, at terms grossly disadvantageous to the government.
Aside from a guaranteed annual return of 15 percent to be paid in US dollars, Erice said that the cost of building the Edsa-MRT was bloated.
“It bought the trains for $3 million each 16 years ago. The government is now buying replacement trains for only $1.5 million each. That’s highway robbery in any language,” he said.
Erice said Metro Manila’s trains had not been interconnected because of opposition from the Sobrepeña group.
“They were asked point blank during a hearing why they don’t want to let it go even after getting a windfall from the contract. They didn’t reply,” Erice said.
He said the MRT problem needed time to unlock because MRTC was determined to hold on to the one-sided deal and to fend off any government takeover probably until a more friendly administration took over.
“At this point, I think the best option right now is for the government to expropriate the MRT after exhausting all legal efforts to revive the trains, including the pending arbitration case in Singapore,” Erice said.
In a press briefing, Coloma did not answer directly a reporter’s query if the President was still satisfied with the DOTC’s performance.
Instead, he referred to the “basic principle” where “the President, as Chief Executive, is the head of the entire government, including the DOTC.”
“All heads of agencies are the alter ego of the President as they perform their duties. It’s up to the President to decide if they should remain in their posts,” he said.
Coloma, also head of the Presidential Communications Operations Office, stressed that “all Cabinet secretaries serve at the pleasure of the President and their performance is continually being assessed by the President as Chief Executive.”
“Pertaining to the day-to-day problems faced by commuters in Metro Manila, the President has tasked the DOTC and other concerned agencies to address these problems with effective solutions,” he told reporters.
“Additional transport infrastructures are also being built and planned to provide long-term solutions for the benefit of our citizens,” he added.
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