Amid graft raps, Vitangcol says MRT under new management worse
Former Metro Rail Transit (MRT 3) General Manager Al Vitangcol III has claimed that the railway transit system has been going more smoothly during his term than under the current management.
Vitangcol arrived at the Sandiganbayan Third Division on Thursday for a hearing on his motion to seek the help of the Public Attorney’s Office (PAO) as he faced graft over the anomalous MRT maintenance contract.
Vitangcol went inside the court in high spirits, smiling to reporters a day after Sen. Grace Poe released the Senate report finding Transportation Secretary Jun Abaya liable for graft over the sorry state of the MRT.
Vitangcol had wanted to pin down Abaya for the anomaly, saying in his motion for reconsideration on his graft indictment that the secretary under the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) was the one who approved the negotiated maintenance contract.
The sacked general manager said the state of the MRT had worsened under the current management.
“Noong panahon na nandon ako, hanggang sa unang bahagi ng 2014, ang mga pangyayari po sa MRT ay hindi po kasing grabe nang nangyayari ngayon,” Vitangcol said.
Vitangcol said under his management, the problems were the usual congestion and long queues of passengers.
Now, the problem included the fewer number of coaches running, which he claimed did not happen under his term because of constant maintenance of the trains.
“Ngayon, base sa nababasa ko sa pahayagan, mas lalo kaunti ang tren. Nung panahon ko po, lagi pong nagmamaintain ng mga 18 na tren sa peak hours, at 16 na tren sa off peak hours,” Vitangcol said.
Vitangcol also cited the MRT accident in 2014, which he said did not happen under his management.
On Aug. 13, 2014, at least 38 passengers were hurt after an MRT train overshot the tracks at the Taft Avenue station on the corner of Edsa and Taft Avenue in Pasay City.
“Nung kalagitnaan ng 2014, may isang tren ng MRT na lumusot sa Taft Avenue station, winasak ang barrier at nadiskaril. Ito po ay isang malaking sakuna, na hindi nangyari sa panahon natin. Tayo ay hands on at sinigurado nating lahat, bago tumakbo ang tren, ay nasa magandang posisyon,” Vitangcol said.
Vitangcol refuted a Philippine Daily Inquirer report quoting him as saying that he blamed the media for his legal woes.
Vitangcol in the report said: “This is not a high-profile case. It is only the media that is making this a high-profile case … Who am I? I’m just an ordinary individual. So why is the media giving me this attention?”
He clarified that his quote was just a statement of fact and not an opinion.
“Gusto ko lang ituwid ang lumabas sa Philippine Daily Inquirer, na ang media ang bina-blame ko sa pagiging high-profile ng kaso ko. Ang sinasabi ko, naging high-profile ang kasong ito dahil sa media. Ito ay statement of fact,” Vitangcol said.
Vitangcol pleaded to the media to stick to the facts and not give out opinions, speaking from his experience as a student paper editor in chief in high school, college, and law school.
“Hindi ko po sinisisi ang media dahil trabaho niyo ito. Ang pakiusap ko sa media, ay sana po maging diretso at tahasan ang paglalahad ng inyong paksa,” Vitangcol said.
“Alam natin ang Journalism 101: Ang sasabihin lang natin ang Who, What, Where, Why and How. Hindi po dapat kasama ang in my opinion,” he added.
Vitangcol likewise questioned the acquittal of DOTC officials in the Ombudsman’s investigation which indicted him for graft over the maintenance contract with PH Trams.
Without giving names, Vitangcol said these officials signed the pertinent documents pertaining to the award of contract to PH Trams.
Vitangcol in a motion to be furnished with their counter-affidavits said even Abaya, the acting Liberal Party president, and Transportation Undersecretary Jose Lotilla signed the documents and yet they were spared by the Ombudsman in the indictment.
He said as MRT general manager, his only power was to approve projects not exceeding P5 million, usually pertaining to contracts for the supply of chairs and office supplies.
He also said the DOTC officials acquitted raised in their counter-affidavits that the contract was above board, and yet he was indicted for an alleged graft-ridden contract.
Vitangcol had accused the Ombudsman of malice by not furnishing him a copy of the counter-affidavits that would have helped him in his defense.
“Hindi ko naman sinasabi siya (Abaya) lamang. Ang sinasabi ko lang dito, 16 ang unang kinasuhan na mga opiyal ng DOTC at pagkatapos niyan, pare-pareho na ang depensa lahat, na lahat ay above board at walang conspiracy,” Vitangcol said.
“Ang nakakapagtaka, yung mga salaysay ng 15 akusado na dating tiningnan ng Ombudsman, sila ay in-acquit, samantalang sa akin naman, tinago ang ganitong mga statements, ay tayo lamang po ang in-indict,” Vitangcol said.
Vitangcol was charged for approving the contract without public bidding, and for having pecuniary interest in awarding the contract to PH Trams where his wife’s uncle is an incorporator.
He was charged for hiding his relationship with the incorporator, and for approving the negotiated contract even though there was no emergency situation at the time.
Vitangcol, however, refused to comment about Poe’s report finding Abaya liable for graft. He said he was not authorized to comment because he was not invited during the Senate hearings.
“Ito pong ginawang report ni Senadora Grace Poe, with all due respect to her, hindi ako makapag-comment. Wala akong posisyon sumagot dahil hindi ako naimbitahan,” Vitangcol said.
During the hearing, Vitangcol asked the court to allow him a PAO lawyer because he does not have a million pesos to pay for a competent counsel.
The court said Vitangcol was free to do so and did not need the court’s nod for him to apply for help from PAO.
Ahead of being sacked from the MRT, Vitangcol resigned as general manager as he faced allegations that he extorted $30 million from Inekon Group CEO and chair Josef Husek at the residence of then Czech Ambassador to the Philippines Josef Rychtar in exchange for granting Inekon the P3.7-billion contract to supply 48 coaches for the MRT 3 expansion.
The Ombudsman is investigating the alleged extortion. RC
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