Former MRT-3 chief found guilty of graft for train management deal

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Former MRT-3 General Manager Al Vitangcol III faces at least six years in jail for awarding a train management contract to a company run by his uncle-in-law.

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, February 6) — The Sandiganbayan found the former chief of the Metro Rail Transit 3 (MRT-3) guilty of graft charges for awarding a train management contract to a company run by his relative.

The court's third division found former MRT-3 General Manager Al Vitangcol III guilty on two counts of graft for awarding an interim maintenance contract for the dilapidated train line to PH Trams CB&T Joint Venture in 2012. Arturo Soriano, the uncle of Vitangcol's wife, was one of the incorporators of PH Trams.

The court gave Vitangcol and his uncle Soriano a minimum of six years and one month up to eight years for each count. Both are also perpetually disqualified from holding public office.

Vitangcol headed the negotiating team of the then-Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) that accepted bids and chose the contractor that will maintain the train line, which stretches from North Avenue in Quezon City to Taft Avenue in Pasay.

PH Trams and its partner, Comm Builders and Technology Philippines Corporation, were named the interim service provider for the train line after the contract with Japan's Sumitomo Corporation expired after 12 years. The joint venture bagged a six-month contract worth ₱517.5 million, which was more than the company's paid-up capital.

State lawyers sued Vitangcol, along with PH Trams incorporators Soriano, Wilson De Vera, Marlo Dela Cruz, Manolo Maralit, and Federico Remo for "fully knowing yet concealing" the financial or pecuniary interest of Vitangcol in the private firm.

Soriano, Vitangcol's uncle-in-law, claimed that he had no part or complicity in the criminal acts and that he had no role in the operations of PH Trams.

The law prohibits any deals granted in favor of an official's relative by affinity within the third civil degree.

Vitangcol said that he only learned about the joint venture including PH Trams when it submitted an unsolicited proposal to manage railway operations.

"Accused Vitangcol III exhibited evident bad faith in not disclosing the material fact of his relationship to one of the incorporators of PH Trams," the court said in its January 31 ruling. "Because of this non-disclosure, PH Trams eventually bagged the interim Maintenance Contract from the DOTC."

"The sheer magnitude of the tasks and responsibilities of accused Vitangcol III not only required absolute uprightness and honesty from him but, more importantly, utmost faithfulness to his sworn duty, especially since the subject Contract not only involved a large amount of money," the magistrates added.

The rest of the PH Trams directors have been acquitted of the charges, with the court saying that the prosecution failed to prove their guilt beyond reasonable doubt in colluding to bag the train contract.

Vitangcol said he will be appealing the anti-graft court's ruling.

"Of course I will be exhausting all legal remedies available to overturn this miscarriage of justice," Vitangcol said in a text message to CNN Philippines, insisting that he cannot be charged for the supposed crime.

"The law prohibits the relationship between the bidder and the head of the procuring entity (HOPE). I am not the HOPE but a mere end user representative of the MRT-3. DOTC was the procuring entity at that time," he added, pointing out that he "never directed Soriano to join PH Trams."

Last year, Vitangcol was acquitted in a different graft complaint that accused him of extorting $30 million from a Czech company to secure a maintenance contract for the MRT-3.

Sumitomo and its partner Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, which designed and built the railway, returned as the MRT-3 service provider in May 2019. The train service is currently under a four-year rehabilitation that involve train track replacement and system upgrades, funded through a loan from the Japan International Cooperation Agency.