Senate to back filing of charges vs. former transport officials over defective MRT trains

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, October 11) — Former Transportation Department officials must face charges over the purchase of alleged faulty trains for the aging Metro Rail Transit (MRT) system that have worsened commuter woes, a senator said.

Senator Grace Poe, chairman of the Senate Public Services Committee, said ₱526 million of taxpayers' money was wasted in the purchase of 48 China-made light rail vehicles for the MRT.

Poe said officials who negotiated the purchase must be apprehended. She said the committee supported government's move to file charges against former officials involved in the purchase.

"Parang tapon na nga ang pera na 'yan. Kaya nga dapat managot 'yung mga dating pumasok diyan. Why are we prolonging the agony," Poe said in a statement on Tuesday.

[Translation: That money was thrown away. That's why those who brought (the trains) in must be held responsible.]

Poe spoke late Monday during the Senate's plenary debates on the Transportation Department's proposed ₱70.4-billion budget for 2018.

She said Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III and Senator Joseph Victor Ejercito, chair of the finance subcommittee, backed the recommendation to file charges against former Transport officials.

The 48 trains purchased from Dalian Locomotive Corp. of China was part of a ₱3.8-billion contract signed in 2014 between Dalian and the Transportation Department during the Aquino administration under then Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya.

Of the total contract price, ₱526 million was paid to Dalian.

Abaya then touted the new trains would ensure an arrival at each station every 2.5 minutes, thus shortening waiting times and queues and decongesting trains.

The trains were for the 16.9-kilometer-long MRT-3, which traverses six cities from Pasay in the south to Caloocan in the north, and serves half a million people each day.

However, a series of breakdowns and technical glitches plagued the trains during their initial use, throwing schedules in disarray and worsening congestion on the trains that were already operational.

Poe said the Public Services Committee's findings are "grounds for canceling the order" and returning the trains to Dalian. The Transportation Department earlier said it was considering returning the trains.

WATCH: Government mulls return of defective MRT trains to China

Faulty, incompatible trains for MRT

A full-blown investigation since May 2017 led by Poe's committee found that out of the 48 vehicles delivered, only 29 had a signaling system installed.

It was also revealed that the Transportation Department under the Duterte administration is still running tests on the trains.

"Malaki nang pagkakamali ito. Para bang ang ginagawa natin, meron tayong sapatos na hindi kasya, puputulin natin yung paa natin para magkasya doon," Poe said late Monday.

[Translation: This is an injustice. What we're doing is cutting off the foot just to make it fit in the shoe.]

"Huwag na lang nating isugal kasi kung hindi talaga maipipilit [Let's not take a gamble if it really can't be fixed], it's better to move on," she added, referring to the government's plan to configure the Dalian trains to make them work on the MRT.

The committee also found that each of the trains weighed just over 49,000 kgs, some 3,000 kgs over the 46,300-kg limit under the terms of the contract.

"It's just common sense. You haven't even filled it with passengers yet the train is already overweight and our rails might not be able to take it," said Poe.

Poe said the move may be costly and subject to years of litigation, but that contingency plans had to be made, such as another bid and purchase of trains that are more compatible and safe for MRT use.

The Dalian mess is on top of another spat between government and the trains' maintenance provider, Busan Universal Rail Inc.

Despite monthly payment of ₱54.5 million for maintenance of the trains, more interruptions in MRT services were recorded.

BURI was accused of undercutting government by getting supplies for train parts especially its automatic protection system from a side street in Makati City known as a haven for secondhand, spare parts.

Read: MRT mulls over terminating contract with maintenance provider