Palace eyes new charges vs. BURI, ex-Cabinet officials over MRT mess

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, March 6) — The Palace said Tuesday it is eyeing new cases against officials of the previous administration over what it said was the "miserable performance" of the Metro Rail Transit (MRT)-3.

Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said President Rodrigo Duterte instructed Solicitor General Jose Calida to study the filing of the cases during their Cabinet meeting on Monday.

In November 2017, the Department of Transportation (DOT) filed a plunder complaint before the Office of the Ombudsman against former train maintenance provider Busan Universal Rail Inc. (BURI), along with other former Cabinet officials, for their involvement in an allegedly anomalous ₱3.8-billion maintenance contract of the MRT.

"I know there was already a case filed for BURI but there could be other cases filed as well…there could be new ones because apparently the problem lies not just with BURI; the problem also lies with the current owners of MRT-3," Roque said.

Among those included in the complaint were former Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) Secretary Joseph Abaya, former Interior Secretary Mar Roxas, and former Budget Secretary Butch Abad.

The complaint supplemented an October 2017 graft complaint filed against Abaya and other ex-DOTC officials for the ₱3.8-billion maintenance contract awarded to Busan Joint Venture, a subsidiary of BURI, in December 2015.

The MRT is currently privately owned by the Metro Rail Transit Corporation, which has previously offered to maintain the train system.

Roque also referred to BURI as a company "with absolutely no track record." He added the Cabinet meeting also tackled short-term solutions for the train system, including the acquisition of necessary spare parts.

The solutions also included the government entering into a maintenance deal with the train's original contractor, Japanese company Sumitomo Corporation, and to eventually change the ownership of the MRT.

In November 2017, the government announced that Sumitomo and technical partner Mitsubishi Heavy Industries -- which designed and built the MRT, and had maintained it from the start of operations in 2000 until 2012 -- would return as the rail line's maintenance provider.

The government earlier took over the MRT's maintenance from BURI due to the company's alleged failure to operate the railway efficiently.

In 2017, the MRT administration reported 504 glitches over 255 operation days or an average of two glitches per day.

The 17-kilometer train line runs the stretch of EDSA, from North Avenue in Quezon City up to Taft in Pasay City.