MANILA, Philippines – Senator Grace Poe said former transportation secretary Manuel Roxas II mishandled the Metro Rail Transit Line 3 (MRT3), as she pointed to his ally allegedly favored to obtain contracts.
Poe, chairperson of the Senate public services committee, led another hearing into the worsening condition of the MRT3 on Monday, May 15.
"I'm convinced that during his (Roxas') time they dropped the ball and I also am convinced Secretary Abaya should not have allowed it to continue or persist during his time," said Poe, referring to ex-secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya who succeeded Roxas in 2012.
But the senator said there is no need yet to invite Roxas to the Senate probe.
"Tingnan muna natin kung makukuha natin ang kasagutan na iyon [from other resource persons]... Kunin natin do'n sa nag-apruba talaga nito na puwede naman na magsabi kung kinakailangan ba siyang ipatawag. Pero kung paiikutin lamang, mabuti pa siguro the record would speak for itself, what has been stated here in this hearing," she added.
(Let's see if we can obtain answers to our questions here from other resource persons. Let's get answers straight from the approving authority who can also say if Roxas should be summoned here. But if we're just going to go around in circles, maybe it's better that the record would speak for itself, what has been stated here in this hearing.)
Poe brought up the name of a certain Marlo dela Cruz, who was allegedly part of the group controlling contracts under the then Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) under Roxas. Dela Cruz, who is supposedly linked to Roxas and the Liberal Party (LP), was invited to the Senate inquiry but did not attend.
"Pinag-iingatan natin [na] wag sasabihin pulitika ito, pero nakikita talaga 'yung isang incorporator na ... si Marlo dela Cruz ay talagang kasama sa nananalo sa bidding, na 'yung kanyang kumpanya bagong incorporated, maliit capitalization. Ang meron lamang siya, koneksyon do'n sa mga nakaraang nakaupo sa DOTC. Ito 'yung talagang nag-ugat ng problema dito," Poe said in an interview.
(We're careful so they won't accuse us of politicizing the issue, but we can really see that Marlo dela Cruz, who was part of a newly incorporated firm with small capitalization, won government biddings. The only thing going for him was he had connections to the past DOTC officials. This is the root of the problem.)
Poe said Dela Cruz is among the incorporators of PH Trams-CB&T, which was awarded the MRT3 maintenance contract in 2012 despite being incorporated only two months prior and with a small capital of P620,000.
Abaya, in defense, said he had to immediately sign the award to PH Trams-CB&T upon assuming his post so that MRT3 operations would not be stalled. He said it was Roxas' team who vetted the firm and finalized the contract.
Abaya became transportation chief in October 2012, replacing Roxas who was then appointed interior and local government secretary.
"Imagine if I came there as a doubting Thomas, being careful that I won't sign anything, MRT3 would have stopped on October 19, 2012. No maintenance provider, titigil (its operations would stop). That I couldn't have explained to our people," Abaya said.
But Poe, in an apparent reference to Roxas, said: "We should also call on the responsibility of the one before you. If for example, okay, sundalo kayo, inaako 'nyo 'yung mga bagay na maaring hindi naman sa inyo talaga nahulog (you're a good soldier, you're just taking responsibility for the things that you really shouldn't be blamed for)."
According to Poe, Dela Cruz is still influential in the MRT3 under the Duterte administration.
Poe said Dela Cruz is also an incorporator of APT, which replaced PH Trams-CB&T in 2013. His brother William is also the general manager of Busan Universal Rail Incorporated (BURI), the current maintenance provider of the MRT3.
Abaya admitted knowing Dela Cruz even before his stint as transportation chief, saying he knew him from the campaign period.
He, however, denied there was an "invisible hand" controlling the agency during his time.
"No invisible hand in the DOTr. I would not have allowed it during my term," Abaya said.
But Poe remains unconvinced, saying if Dela Cruz had nothing to hide, he should have appeared before the hearing.
"Inamin na rin ni Secretary Abaya – kilala niya ito bago pa sa DOTC dahil kaalyado nila ito. So 'yun ang maaaring isang anggulo. 'Di siya sumipot ngayon, bakit? Kung wala siyang 'tinatago dapat nagpakita siya," Poe said.
(Secretary Abaya himself admitted that he knew Dela Cruz even before his stint at the DOTC because Dela Cruz is an ally. So that's another angle. Why didn't Dela Cruz show up at the hearing today? If he has nothing to hide, he should've appeared before the Senate.)
Poe and Roxas were rivals in the 2016 presidential elections. Poe accused Roxas and the LP of orchestrating the disqualification cases against her over her citizenship.
Camille Elemia is Rappler's lead reporter for media, disinformation issues, and democracy. She won an ILO award in 2017. She received the prestigious Fulbright-Hubert Humphrey fellowship in 2019, allowing her to further study media and politics in the US. Email email@example.com