Ex-MRT chief Al Vitangcol convicted of graft over maintenance contract

MANILA, Philippines – Anti-graft court Sandiganbayan has convicted former Metro Rail Transit 3 (MRT3) general manager Al Vitangcol III of graft and procurement law violation over the 2012 contract given to PH Trams whose incorporator Arturo Soriano was his uncle-in-law.

Soriano was convicted alongside Vitangcol. They are each sentenced to 6-8 years in prison for graft, and 6-8 years in prison for violation of procurement law. They can appeal their conviction.

Vitangcol and Soriano are also made "to suffer perpetual absolute disqualification" from public office.

"Vitangcol clearly gave unwarranted benefit and advantage to PH Trams when he concealed the fact of his relationship with co-accused Soriano, one of the incorporators of PH Trams," said the Sandiganbayan 3rd Division in a decision penned by Associate Justice Bernelito Fernandez with concurrences from Presiding Justice Amparo Cabotaje-Tang and Associate Justice Ronald Moreno and promulgated January 31.

The conviction

Vitangcol and Soriano were convicted of Section 3(e) of Republic Act 3019 or the graft law, which punishes individuals who give unwarranted benefits to any private party either through manifest partiality, evident bad faith, or gross inexcusable negligence.

The Sandiganbayan said Vitangcol purposely concealed his relationship to Soriano so PH Trams will not be disqualified from the negotiation of the maintenance contract.

"Because of this non-disclosure, PH Trams eventually bagged the interim Maintenance Contract from the Department of Transportation and Communication (DOTC)," said the court.

Section 47 of the procurement law prohibits heads of agencies to enter into contracts with bidders whom they are related to by consanguinity or affinity up to the 3rd civil degree.

The Sandiganbayan said Vitangcol served as team leader of the task force who reviewed the draft contract.

"Vitangcol, although admitting knowing one of the incorporators of PH Trams to be a relative by affinity, chose to remain silent during the entire procurement process. To our minds, this is a clear breach of his sworn duty as a public official," the Sandiganbayan said.

Vitangcol was acquitted of Section 3(h) of the graft law which prohibits having direct or indirect financial interest in a government transaction. 

"The relationship between Vitangcol and Soriano, standing alone, does not necessarily mean that the former has financial or pecuniary interest with the latter," said the court, pointing out that PH Trams is not a family corporation.

PH Trams executives Wilson De Vera, Marlo de la Cruz, Manolo Maralit, and Federico Remo were acquitted of all charges after the court found that the prosecution failed to prove beyond reasonable doubt that the executives knew of Vitangcol and Soriano's relationship.

"Aside from the affidavit of disclosure itself, there is no other proof presented by the prosecution to show conspiracy," said the court.

 PH Trams and joint venture partner Comm Builders and Technology Philippines Corporation (CB&T) won the 6-month interim maintenance contract in 2012.

 PH Trams CB&T maintained the newly installed components of MRT-3, including the signaling, AFCS, CCTV for the lowest monthly cost of $1.15 million. – Rappler.com

Lian Buan

Lian Buan covers justice and corruption for Rappler. She is interested in decisions, pleadings, audits, contracts, and other documents that establish a trail. If you have leads, email lian.buan@rappler.com or tweet @lianbuan.