Poe on MRT deal: Why exclude Abaya from graft charges?
MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – Senator Grace Poe on Sunday, July 5, welcomed the Ombudsman’s indictment of former Metro Rail Transit (MRT3) general manager Al Vitangcol III, but questioned why transportation chief Joseph Emilio Abaya wasn't indicted for graft.
“While we respect the findings and recommendations of the Ombudsman in the indictment of Mr Vitangcol and his cohorts, I would like to read the text of the resolution in full to find out the reasons why DOTC Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya was not included despite having allegedly signed the contract presumably with full knowledge of the facts and the applicable law surrounding such anomalous procurement of services,” Poe said in a statement.
In September 2014, the Ombudsman Field Investigation filed a graft complaint against Abaya and 20 others over an allegedly anomalous contract for the mass transit system.
But on Friday, July 3, the Ombudsman only indicted Vitangcol and 5 incorporators of Philippine Trans Rail Management and Services Corporation (PH Trams) for graft over the MRT deal.
Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales said Vitangcol, Wilson de Vera, Marlo Dela Cruz, Manolo Marali, Federico Remo, and Vitangcol's uncle-in-law Arturo Soriano "conspired to irregularly award the MRT3 contract to the PH Trams-CB&T joint venture.“
They are accused of violating Sections 3(e) and 3(h) of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act and Section 65(c)(1) of the Government Procurement Reform Act.
In a radio interview on Monday, July 6, Poe said that while she is not pinning the blame on Abaya for the MRT3 deficiencies, the transportation secretary has "command responsibility."
“Pero kahit papaano, iyan po ay nasa ilalim ng kanyang pamamalakad kaya po gusto kong makita kung ano ang nabanggit ng Ombudsman bakit masasabing hindi talaga siya ang may responsibilidad nun. Sapagkat hindi ba, hindi naman maaprubahan ang bidding na iyan kung ang secretary po ay hindi naman pumayag? So iyun lang naman po ang sa akin,” Poe said in a radio interview on DZMM.
(However you look at it, this was under his administration, that's why I want to see what the Ombudsman said, how it's justified that he doesn't have responsibility in this. Would the bidding have been approved without the consent of the secretary [of the department]?)
The senator compared the case with that former Philippine National Police chief Alan Purisima. The Ombudsman ordered Purisima's dismissal, citing his accountability over the allegedly anomalous courier service contracts entered into by the PNP since he was head of the agency then.
'Almost heinous indiscretions'
In her statement Sunday, Poe also said the Ombudsman’s move was a welcome decision for thousands of commuters who suffer from frequent glitches of the overburdened train line. She blamed these “deplorable conditions” on the indicted officials’ “almost heinous criminal indiscretions.”
“This should serve as a severe warning to the current MRT administrators to get their acts together and that ineptness prompted by illegal motives shall be dealt with severely,” she said.
PH Trams bagged a 9-month contract for the upkeep of MRT 3 in 2012 as part of a joint venture with CB&T JV.
In a 39-page resolution, the Ombudsman said Vitangcol "intentionally hid his [affinitive] relationship with Soriano, which would have automatically disqualified PH Trams.“
In May 2014, Vitangcol said his uncle-in-law had already divested from PH Trams in mid-September 2012, before the contract was awarded to PH Trams in October 2012.
But the Ombudsman said Soriano's claim that he divested from the company was not recorded in the Securities and Exchange Commission. The Ombudsman also said that Soriano's Statement of Assets, Liabilities, and Net Worth (SALN) showed that he obtained an interest as a stockholder of PH Trams in November 2012.
Another PH Trams incorporator, De Vera, has been accused by Czech Ambassador to the Philippines Josef Rychtar of extorting $30 million from Czech company Inekon Group in exchange for an MRT 3 contract.
The controversy surrounding the MRT deal triggered the relief, and eventual resignation, of Vitangcol as MRT chief last year.
UNA: Vitangcol only a ‘scapegoat’
The opposition United Nationalist Alliance (UNA), for its part, shared Poe’s sentiment and said problems in the DOTC are rooted in the agency’s corruption, which Malacañang supposedly protects.
The party of Vice President Jejomar Binay also questioned the Ombudsman for exempting from charges former Transportation and Communications Secretary Manuel “Mar” Roxas II, another close ally and party mate of the President.
"Scapegoat lang si Vitangcol. It was Roxas and Abaya who screwed up the DOTC and made the MRT as its milking cow. The daily ordeals every train passenger is experiencing are clearly the results of the PH Trams fiasco – pero bakit si Vitangcol lang ang pinagdiskitahan?" UNA spokesman JV Bautista said in a statement on Monday.
Bautista added that during Roxas' stint as secretary of transportation, he canceled almost all the government’s transport-related contracts to accommodate the administration’s favored suppliers.
"The hypocrisy of Mar Roxas and this administration is nauseating and dizzying. We expect that Malacañang and the Liberal Party will keep on spewing smoke in a bid to mask or legitimize their lies and deceitful agendas. Mar Roxas cannot escape the fact that failures in the DOTC were all his doings," Bautista said.
Malacanang on Monday, July 6, denied allegations that it is protecting its allies Abaya and Roxas.
Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said the Ombudsman enjoys independence as a constitutional body.
“Walang konseptong ‘untouchable.’ Ang pagsampa ng mga kaso mula sa DOJ [Department of Justice] at ehekutibo ay batay sa ebidensya. Hiwalay at independiyenteng constitutional body ang Ombudsman,” Coloma said in a text message to reporters.
(There's no concept of "untouchable." The Department of Justice and the executive filed the case based on evidence. The Ombudsman is a separate and independent constitutional body.)
Ombudsman Morales, meanwhile, earlier said she is “apolitical” and said the mere fact she ordered the dismissal of Purisima, a close friend of Aquino, is a testament to that. (READ: 'Impeach me,' Ombudsman dares critics) – Rappler.com