Ombudsman finds probable cause to charge ex- Transportation Chief Abaya, 16 others over anomalous MRT deal

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Former Transportation Secretary Jun Abaya faces another graft charge for his involvement in the allegedly anomalous maintenance contract of the MRT-3.

Updated with a statement from the DOTr.

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, June 25) — The Ombudsman has found probable cause to charge former Transportation Secretary Jun Abaya over the alleged anomalous ₱4.2-billion MRT-3 maintenance contract.

Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales on Monday also found Transportation undersecretaries Edwin Lopez, Rene Limcaoco, and Catherine Gonzales, MRT-3 General Manager Roman Buenafe, and a number of officials in violation of the Section 3(e) of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act.

Abaya, ex-DOTC officials face graft rap over MRT-3 maintenance contract

Officials from MRT's former maintenance provider Busan Universal Rail, Inc. (BURI) were also included in the charge list.

The Department of Transportation and MRT-3 in January 2016 entered into a long-term maintenance contract with the firm Busan Joint Venture.

"The Special Panel of Investigators found that respondents extended unwarranted benefits, advantage and preference to the contractor when it awarded the project to Busan Joint Venture, an ineligible and unqualified entity," the Ombudsman said in a statement.

It added that Busan Joint Venture was not technically, legally, and financially ready to undertake the long-term maintenance of the MRT.

The Ombudsman said, Abaya deliberately ignored rules and standard operating procedures when he allowed the department to award the contract to Busan Joint Venture despite "glaring irregularities."

Meanwhile, the charges against former Cabinet Secretaries and respondents Manuel "Mar" Roxas II, Florencio Abad, Cesar Purisima, Carlos Jericho Petilla, Mario Montejo, Voltaire Gazmin, Rogelio Singson, and Arsenio Balisacan, who were sued in their capacity as members of the Government Procurement Policy Board, were dismissed for lack of probable cause.

"Not all the elements for plunder were sufficiently established," the Ombudsman said.

The DOTr in a statement said it will consult with the Office of the Solicitor General on plans of pursuing plunder charges against the indicted personalities and all the others involved, "in efforts to promote accountability and transparency."

"We assure the public that the DOTr will get to the bottom of these anomalous contracts, and go after the people who sacrificed the welfare of MRT-3 riders in the name of personal interests," the Tuesday statement read.

Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said "it's about time" that these officials be held liable for the mismanagement of the train's maintenance system.

"It's about time po na magkaroon ng pananagutan lalo na dun sa mga nagdarambong naman ng pondo para sa MRT na ngayon po ay nagbibigay ng talaga namang napakalaking pahirap sa ating mga mananakay," he said in a media briefing.

[Translation: It's about time that someone will be held accountable, especially those who committed plunder related to the MRT funds, which is now being a burden to the riding public.]

Abaya, through his spokesperson, said it is unfortunate that Morales found probable cause to charge him.

"We find this decision unfortunate, considering that Sec. Jun clearly laid out his defense against the poorly-crafted and unsubstantiated complaint filed by the DOTr," he said in a statement.

He added he will consult with his legal counsel on his next course of action once he receives a copy of the decision.