Former Aquino Cabinet officials face plunder complaint over MRT-3 maintenance contract

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Former Transportation Secretaries Joseph Abaya and Mar Roxas are among those facing plunder charges at the Ombudsman.

Story updated to include statements of Sen. Grace Poe, Transportation Department officials, and former DOTC and Interior and Local Government Secretary Mar Roxas.

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, November 21) — The Transportation Department on Tuesday filed a plunder complaint against nine former Cabinet officials for their involvement in an allegedly anomalous ₱3.8-billion maintenance contract for the ailing Metro Rail Transit 3 (MRT-3).

The Department of Transportation led by Undersecretary for Legal Affairs Reinier Yebra, filed the complaint with the Ombudsman against:

  • Former Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) Secretary Joseph Abaya
  • Former DOTC and Interior and Local Government Secretary Mar Roxas
  • Former Budget Secretary Florencio Abad
  • Former Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima
  • Former Energy Secretary Jericho Petilla
  • Former Department of Science and Technology Secretary Mario Montejo
  • Former Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin
  • Former Public Works Secretary Rogelio Singson
  • Former Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Arsenio Balisacan
  • Former DOTC Undersecretaries Edwin Lopez, Rene Limcaoco and Catherine Gonzales
  • Former MRT-3 General Manager Roman Buenafe
  • Former Bids and Awards Committee officials
  • Busan Universal Rail, Inc. officials
  • Marlo Dela Cruz

The complaint supplements the October 2017 graft complaint filed against Abaya and other ex-DOTC officials for the ₱3.81-billion maintenance contract awarded to Busan Joint Venture in December 2015.

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

The first complaint did not include Roxas, Abad, Purisima, Petilla, Montejo, Gazmin, Singson and Balisacan, who also face graft charges in the complaint filed Tuesday.

Roxas and Abaya were tagged as the "main conspirators" in the alleged crime, said Yebra, speaking to reporters after the filing.

Transportation Dept. Director for Legal Services Giovanni Lopez said they filed a plunder case because they believe there was a "grand conspiracy" among BURI and former transport officials  to amass ill-gotten wealth.

"For the past eight months, from the start of the contract of BURI, binayaran ho nila ang [they paid] BURI every month by ₱54 million, despite unperformed service and undelivered spare parts," Lopez said on Tuesday.

"For us, that's a reason enough to hold them accountable for the crime of plunder," added Lopez.

The Transportation Department was formerly known as the DOTC, before it was split into the Department of Transportation and the Department of Information and Communication Technology in 2016.

Palace optimistic on Ombudsman's action on MRT-3

The Palace is optimistic that the Ombudsman will prioritize the complaint, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said in a Malacanang press briefing.

"Ngayon naman ho siguro dahil nakikita na ng Ombudsman yung aberya ng nangyayari sa ating taumbayan dahil dito sa palpak na MRT natin, eh baka naman mabigyan na ng kaukulang prayoridad ang imbestigasyon ng bagay na ito," he said in a Tuesday press briefing.

[Translation: I suppose now that the Ombudsman sees the inconvenience to the people brought about by the problematic MRT, perhaps it can prioritize the investigation of this complaint.]

"We must stress that the great suffering of the riding public as a result of the failure to deliver on the responsibilities of public office, such as the case of the current state of the MRT-3 system, carries consequences and that those accountable will be held liable," Roque added.

Meanwhile, Senate Committee on Public Services chair Grace Poe said she expects the Ombudsman to "act expeditiously" on the case, adding that the DOTr exercised "due diligence" in reviewing the issues surrounding BURI.

"The Senate investigation that we conducted revealed that the award to BURI was anomalous and disadvantageous to the public," Poe said in a Tuesday statement. "There were individuals who appeared to have favored an incompetent maintenance provider and in mismanaging the train system. They should see this as an opportunity for them to clear their names."

Poe has called for a Senate Blue Ribbon investigation into the problems surrounding the MRT. The Blue Ribbon committee investigates high-ranking officials in such cases.

Read: Poe calls for Senate Blue Ribbon probe on MRT

BURI creation 'anomalous'

The government on November 6 temporarily took over the maintenance of the troubled MRT-3 and terminated its contract with BURI, citing its poor performance in maintaining the trains.

Read: DOTr: Gov't to take over MRT maintenance

The DOTr said in the October 2017 complaint that although the contract was awarded to Busan Joint Venture in December 2015, it was an entirely different entity, Busan Universal Rail, Inc. also known as BURI, that was formed in January 2016 and tasked to implement the maintenance contract allegedly on orders of Abaya and other transport officials.

"Busan Joint Venture won the contract with then-DOTC and one of joint venturers there is Busan Transportation Corporation," Yebra said in October 2017. "Busan Transportation Corp. had the experience and the required capitalization to accomplish maintenance of the MRT, he added.

However, Busan Transportation Corp. only made up 4.7 percent of BURI, which the transportation undersecretary said was "anomalous."

The complaint said aside from not being part of the bidding, BURI did not have the required 15 years of experience to be accepted as a maintenance provider.

The government suffered "undue injury" because of the over ₱921 million paid to BURI so far for the "payment of dismal services," the Department of Transportation added.

From January 2016 to Nov. 17, 2017, there have been at least 897 glitches on the MRT-3, equal to at least one every day.

The glitches range from technical problems resulting in passengers being unloaded to two northbound MRT trains decoupling on Thursday, which led to around 140 passengers walking on the tracks for 10 minutes.

Read: Passengers walk from Ayala to Buendia stations after MRT train detaches

Roxas: DOTr case 'Pathetic'

Meanwhile, Roxas on Tuesday slammed allegations against him, calling the complaint "pathetic."

"Dahil walang mapakitang accomplishment sa mga ipinangako nila, nagimbento ng kasong walang laman, walang basehan sa katotohanan o sa batas para ipakitang may ginagawa sila," Roxas said in a statement Tuesday evening.

[Translation: They couldn't show any accomplishments for all their promises, so they invented a case without substance, and factual or legal basis just so it looks like they're doing something.]

The former Transportation and Communication Secretary said he had yet to get a copy of the complaint and will withhold further comment until he receives one.

"This is laughable on its face," he said.

'We will be vindicated'

Abaya also said on Tuesday that he will face any official proceeding into his work at the DOTC.

"I am confident that any inquiry will show that any and all projects and agreements entered into during not only my stint, but during the Aquino administration, were done with full, rigorous compliance with the law, with honesty, and in the public interest," he said.

"Both for myself and my subordinates, I am sure we will be vindicated by the record," Abaya added. "My only regret is that much-needed improvements will once again be delayed or even reversed because of the current unfounded allegations."

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said he is confident the respondents will be vindicated, as they did not personally profit from the alleged crime.

"Just one basic issue, the plunder requires or one of the elements of the crime is that you personally profited to the extent of P50 million." Drilon said.

He added the administration should start looking for solutions instead of pointing fingers.

"After almost one year and a half, I suggest to the Department of Transportation that they stop looking for scapegoat and start looking for solutions. Up to this point, the MRT is still in such a state that it does not serve the purpose for which it was formed," Drilon said.

Purisima, meanwhile, said he was surprised he was one of the respondents in the DOTr complaint.

"While neither I nor my counsel have received a copy of the documents containing the allegations, we are confident that the lawful authorities will find that it is not proper for my name to be included in the complaint, and that these allegations have no basis," Purisima said.

The government hopes to get a new maintenance provider by the end of 2017, Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade told CNN Philippines.

Read: Gov't hopes to get new MRT-3 maintenance provider by end-2017

Abaya along with ex-DOTC and Busan Universal Rail officials, also faces multiple graft charges for the Busan Universal Rail deal.

Read: Abaya, BURI face new graft charges

CNN Philippines Senior Correspondent Ina Andolong and Correspondent Rex Remitio contributed to this report.