MANILA, Philippines – An ambassador’s claim that government officials or their relatives tried to extort from a company in relation to the Metro Rail Transit-Line 3 bidding has taken another twist.
It’s the sister of MRT general manager-on-leave Al Vitangcol III – not the sister of President Aquino – who allegedly wanted a favor from Czech firm Inekon, said Transportation and Communications Sec Joseph Abaya on Monday, September 2.
Abaya revealed this one and “very specific complaint” from Czech Ambassador Josef Rychtar when he was asked about the extortion reports at the budget hearing for the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) at the House of Representatives.
Abaya belied earlier reports quoting Rychtar as saying that it was DOTC officials who attempted to extort up to $30 million from Inekon to ensure it would bag a contract to supply new cars for the MRT-3. The earliest of those reports said it was presidential sister Ballsy Aquino-Cruz that was asking for bribe.
“I’ve repeatedly met with the Ambassador, he has never raised any complaints with any undersecretary, nor any of the assistant secretaries, on extortion,” Abaya said in response to questions raised by ACT Teachers Rep Antonio Tinio.
Abaya said that complaint was against Vitangcol, who allegedly “demanded” that the Czech railway firm form a joint venture with a company that Vitangcol’s sister was purportedly a part of.
He added: “He had a very specific complaint against general manager Vitangcol. However, given your question, Congressman Tinio, it seemed like whatever was written to the media was then attributed to him. I’ve repeatedly asked him and he said he was not complaining against any DOTC official except for Vitangcol.”
Malacañang has directed the National Bureau of Investigation to probe the alleged extortion attempt.
Meanwhile, Vitangcol went on voluntary leave to make way for the investigation.
Rumors earlier circulated that President Benigno Aquino III’s sister, Ballsy Aquino, was involved in the extortion attempt, a claim that Malacañang has denied.
Reports later said the ambassador accused Transportation Undersecretaries Jose Lotilla, Rene Limcaoco, Catherine Gonzales, and Assistant Secretary Jaime Feliciano of demanding $30 million in exchange for an approval of the Czech proposal.
Rychtar also claimed DOTC blacklisted Inekon after the incident. DOTC and Malacañang have denied this.
‘Ambassador had agenda’
Abaya faced former colleagues Monday as he presented and defended DOTC’s proposed budget for 2014. Abaya was the former head of the House appropriations committee.
During the hearing, Abaya questioned Rychtar’s intentions for exposing the alleged irregularities and hinted that DOTC is not enthusiastic to investigate the matter due to Rychtar’s supposed bias.
“While he was very criticial of the department of irregularities, he was also putting a hard sell that a Czech company should participate in the deal,” Abaya said. “Had he come to me with clean hands I would have been willing to open an investigation right away, but having a two-dimensional agenda made me become cautious also.”
DOTC’s internal probe will only be confined to administrative matters as NBI takes charge of investigating possible criminal liabilities on the incident.
Abaya also challeged Rychtar to provide more evidence, echoing the Palace’s earlier statement. He said Rychtar did not provide DOTC with any charges, affidavits or formal evidence.
“A lawyer admitted to me that generally Vitangcol should not go on leave because there are no formal charges,” Abaya said.
In July, Vitangcol submitted documents to DOTC in a bid to clear his name. – Rappler.com