WHAT WENT BEFORE: Al Vitangcol III
Al Vitangcol III was forced to quit his post as Metro Rail Transit general manager in May 2014 amid an extortion controversy with Czech train manufacturer Inekon Group in July 2012 and an irregular $1.5-million maintenance contract awarded to Philippine Trans Rail Management and Services Corp. (PH Trams), whose incorporators included Arturo V. Soriano, an uncle of Vitangcol’s wife.
Czech Ambassador Josef Rychtar accused Vitangcol and PH Trams Executive Wilson de Vera of demanding $30 million from the Inekon Group in exchange for the contract to supply 48 new train coaches in 2012.
In June 2014, the Office of the Ombudsman ordered an investigation of Vitangcol and De Vera in the alleged extortion attempt and for awarding without public bidding the MRT 3 maintenance contract to PH Trams.
After initially demanding $30 million, the Ombudsman said Vitangcol’s group asked for $2.5 million from Inekon as a precondition set by “Vitangcol in conspiracy with De Vera.”
In December 2015, the Sandiganbayan approved the indictment for graft of Vitangcol and five others for the contract with PH Trams. The court did not issue arrest warrants for Vitangcol and De Vera since they had already posted P90,000 bail each for the three counts of graft filed against them by the Ombudsman.
In February, Vitangcol asked the Supreme Court to stop the Sandiganbayan from proceeding with the corruption cases filed against him, saying in the affidavit he submitted to the high court that former Interior Secretary Mar Roxas, former Transportation Secretary Emilio A. Abaya, and two Department of Transportation and Communication (DOTC) undersecretaries are also to blame for the problems afflicting the MRT 3 line.
“I am the only DOTC official charged by the Ombudsman despite the unmistakable knowledge, involvement, participation and instruction of my superiors in the DOTC headed by former Secretary Roxas, current Secretary Abaya, Undersecretary for Legal Affairs Jose Perpetuo M. Lotilla and Undersecretary Rene K. Limcaoco, who should have been the ones brought to justice for gross and inexcusable inaction, if not willful and deliberate manipulation, of the events and processes related to the maintenance of MRT 3,” Vitangcol said.
The MRT has been plagued with problems and frequent suspended operations due to malfunctioning trains and broken tracks.
In November last year, state prosecutors formally charged Vitangcol and De Vera in connection with the alleged extortion attempt on the Czech firm. Their cases were raffled off on Nov. 25 to the Sandiganbayan Sixth Division.
A lawyer and a civil engineer by profession, Vitangcol served as the chief of the Public Private Partnership Center before being appointed head of the MRT in January 2012. —INQUIRER RESEARCH
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