Under the Aquino government, the running MRT trains went down from almost 73 to just about 43. MRT3 workers said that even if some of the remaining trains have problems in its machine or manifesting technical troubles (like in its doors or controls or motor), it is still being used or inserted among others that are still functioning. Worse, workers have to make do with discarded parts because of the lack of spare parts, which was supposed to be provided by maintenance contractors.
By MARYA SALAMAT
MANILA – The Aquino government and the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) have been telling the commuting public to be patient as the problems plaguing the MRT 3 would be solved next year when train coaches (purchased out of public funds) are scheduled to be delivered to supplement today’s conking out trains.
But between next year and now, what can the riding public expect from MRT 3? Who will pay for the agony of the present?
At the Senate hearing last week on the Metro Rail Transit-Line 3 (MRT-3) amid the increasing instances of accidents and troubles involving it, one of the immediate causes that surfaced is the failure of the private company contracted by the DOTC to do its part in maintaining the train system. It appears that the DOTC had signed million dollar maintenance contracts since 2012 with an inexperienced, undercapitalized company led by Marlo dela Cruz, a compadre of DOTC Secretary Hernando Abaya, and also a known financier of the Liberal Party to which the country’s president and former DOTC Secretary, Mar Roxas, also belongs. Abaya himself has been Liberal Party’s president when he was appointed at the DOTC.
Interviews with MRT 3 workers also yielded details as to why the MRT3 ride remains dangerous today, bolstering demands for government accountability and takeover aired by commuter groups such as the RILES Network.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, some members of the MRT Employees Association told Bulatlat.com that the train system is suffering from failures and negligence of its private maintenance providers. They asked not to be named for fear of losing their jobs or incurring the ire of train executives.
They noted that “big people” are behind the questionable contracts with maintenance providers, and that even MRT Officer-In-Charge Honorito Chaneco (who came from LRT which, at least, has a better record than MRT3 at maintaining its train system) was recently removed from MRT3 after he “spoke about the negligence of the private maintenance company” associated with the Liberal Party.
Many accidents started happening in MRT3 after its former General Manager Al Vitangcol III, an appointee of Pres. Aquino, replaced what he called as “costly” maintenance provider Sumitomo with newcomer PH Trams. The DOTC gave the newcomer the Oct. 2012 to Aug. 2013 maintenance contract worth $1.15 million a month, or P517.5 million.
PH Trams incorporators-directors include Vitangcol’s uncle-in-law (Arturo Soriano) and two people allegedly involved in the extortion try in July 2012 on MRT-3’s Czech train supplier Inekon Inc. These are PH Trams Chairman Marlo dela Cruz, and incorporator Wilson de Vera, as exposed by the Czech ambassador in Apr. 2013.
For this maintenance contract with MRT3, PH Trams partnered with Comm-Builders and Transport (CB&T) which, unlike newcomer PH Trams, has years of experience in maintaining the Light Rail Transit-Line 1 (LRT-1). CB&T clarified in subsequent press statements that in this partnership, it was the one in charge of the servicing, while PH Trams’ role was to stockpile spare parts and basic equipment.
PH Trams allegedly failed to fulfill its part, based on the Senate hearing last week.
In Sept. 2013 another newcomer, Global Inc., partnered with Autre Porte Technique (APT) to take over maintenance of MRT3 from the much-criticized PH Trams. With similarities to PH Trams-CB&T, newcomer Global listed as “authorized representative” the same Abaya compadre and Liberal Party financier Marlo dela Cruz, and utilized another company’s experience in maintenance, this time APT’s servicing of LRT Line 2. The maintenance servicing contract is worth $1.4 million a month, or P756 million for 12 months. With the maintenance contract expiring on Friday, Sept. 5, it would have been extended by one to three years – by mere negotiation – based on previous declarations by contract signatories Abaya and Chaneco. In fact, it had not conducted bidding early on despite the approaching expiry of the maintenance contract.
Now, after public furor over the undeniable accidents in MRT3 operation, which Chaneco and MRT3 workers blamed on the failure of maintenance providers, the DOTC set to bid out a three-year maintenance contract worth P2.25 billion ( $51,136 million) for MRT3, expanding the usual one-year contract.
Workers forced to dig for scrap, take the blame
Based on last week’s Senate hearing on MRT3, troubles have been cropping up in MRT3 because the maintenance contractor did not inspect the anti-flood, radio repeater, lightning arresters, and power systems and did not stockpile basic supplies like submersible water pumps, standby two-way radios or all-day cell phones, and circuit breakers.
Some MRT3 workers told Bulatlat.com that the maintenance providers do not seem to have complete equipment, facilities and spare parts, as compared to Sumitomo, which they had observed was checking the trains and rails everyday, checking the oil, ensuring that the nuts and bolts are in place, and repairing visible cuts or cracks among others.
Workers said today’s maintenance providers in MRT3 evidently have no supplies and parts with which to replace or repair parts of the train system with problems.
Sammy Malunes, spokesperson of RILES Network, told Bulatlat.com in another interview that train workers would not seek to place their own lives and jobs at risk, as well as their passengers. As the main personnel on the frontline whose jobs and lives are at stake if any major problem occurs, train workers are most interested in the trains’ smooth and safe operation, Malunes explained. Malunes has 16 years of work experience with the Light Rail Transit (LRT) 1. He was terminated after LRT workers were illegally dismissed in 2001 for having launched a strike. They were opposing the privatization of LRT 1 and contractualization of jobs at the time.
Now vice chairman of Kilusang Mayo Uno for federation affairs, and spokesperson of RILES Network, he said train workers are trained to respond to and resolve emergencies quickly. He said that if trains are stalled for hours at a time, it means the workers really have no choice and that would happen only if they have no supplies or spare parts or equipment to resolve the problem. He said that despite workers’ desire to safely and quickly serve the train riders, if they have no spare parts and supplies, if the company tasked to procure supplies and parts did not do its job, the workers cannot do much.
MRT3 workers confirmed that indeed, their problem is the lack of spare parts and supplies, which, based on Senate hearings, the newcomer companies contracted by the DOTC are supposed to have provided.
With the lack of spare parts, maintenance and train workers are being forced to make do with what is available just so they could continue running the trains. But with this, the problem would only worsen over time until the problematic parts have been replaced.
MRT3 workers said some of them have seen maintenance workers being forced to use “even the carbon already discarded” by Sumitomo for train wheels.
Under the Aquino government, the running MRT trains went down from almost 73 to just about 43. The immediate effect is the difficulty of riders, the extra work of MRT3 workers who had to traffic them and answer to their complaints.
Workers said that even if some of the remaining trains have problems in its machine or manifesting technical troubles (like in its doors or controls or motor), it is still being used or inserted among others that are still functioning.
“We seem to have become collectors of scraps,” said an MRT3 worker, as he noted how some workers had dug through Sumitomo scraps to find parts or supplies they can use to repair the train.
Workers now worry about a crack in the tracks like one somewhere between Ortigas and Santolan stations.
Asked why the MRT3 decided to slow its speed limit from 60 to 65 kph to just about 40 kph, following the accidents recently, the workers cite numerous problems all traceable to compounded effects of lack of proper maintenance and repairs.
Another source who comes from the Light Rail Transit Authority had once told Bulatlat.com in another interview that the MRT3 railroad tracks have never seen rehabilitation since it began operations. MRT3 began operations in 1997 although it was completed in 2000.
The MRT3 workers said the maintenance workers of Sumitomo had told them that its tracks or railways have only a 10-year lifespan. They cannot say if they have seen works rehabilitating its railroad tracks. In fact, a cursory view of MRT-3 railways reveals rusting tracks.
It appears its maintenance provider even has to borrow equipment like (railroad track) grinder from the LRT.
Workers also said the reason why trains are sometimes being forced to stop between Guadalupe to Taft is because they have signaling problems. The monitor at times loses sight of trains that are running on its tracks. Last Saturday, Aug. 30, the lack of communication through radio and not just lack of signaling has resulted in the suspension of train service from 4:50 p.m. to 9:00 p.m.
Suffer the riders and workers
In all these safety issues, however, it is the workers who are unfortunately being blamed. It is the riders who are facing the daily threat of accidents and the usual rush hour crunch. Meanwhile, the top officials who have had a hand in contracting and monitoring the performance of maintenance providers, remain at the helm, and still involved in more lucrative deals involving the MRT3.
Vitangcol and Chaneco, general manager at one time of MRT3, have both been removed from the position of MRT3 General Manager, but the train workers said there are bigger fishes to fry.
Without saying that Vitangcol or Chaneco are not accountable, a source within the LRTA and MRT3 separately pointed to the fact that it was not the MRT3 managers but the Bids and Awards Committee (under the DOTC) which has the say in awarding maintenance contracts.
As of this writing, though, it is mostly the workers and to some extent the MRT managers (Vitangcol and Chaneco) who have both seemed to take some blame for the controversies concerning MRT contracts. Abaya and other signatories to the contracts and the maintenance providers are as yet scot-free.
The RILES Network and various consumer groups have asked for Abaya’s resignation in the light of the Aug. 13 accident in MRT3. But President Aquino retained Abaya, who now continues to lead the process of entering and concluding even more lucrative contracts. He is now asking bidders for a longer contract period (three years unlike previous practice of bidding out one-year contract) for MRT3 maintenance. Add to this, the capacity expansion contracts as DOTC awarded early this year a P3.8-billion ($86.36 million) contract for the acquisition of 48 brand new trains for MRT-3 to a Chinese firm.
MRT3 workers alleged that similar to the botched acquisition deal with the Czech company, where even presidential sister Ballsy Aquino was accused of having asked for commissions, there are people who received or stand to receive money as a result of the purchase from China. It is not yet clear if the Chinese trains are immediately compatible with what the MRT3 has (from old trains to system).
(Also, MRT3 is currently a cause for big-ticket expenditure by the Aquino administration who is now in the middle of a P56-billion equity value buyout of private shareholders of MRTC. The former Arroyo government has taken over paying all the loans incurred by MRTC in building the MRT3, but apparently it had only bought “economic” and not political rights, because the control remains with the private owners of MRTC.)
The workers, meanwhile, are at the frontline, receiving the angry diatribes of jampacked, endangered riding public, and staking their lives and not just their jobs each day with every potential MRT3 accident.
Today, train riders are suffering from what the RILES Network called as “negligence for profiteering” of private maintenance providers. Some MRT3 workers said these private maintenance contractors did not even pay a centavo for any income lost due to train troubles. But it is the train workers who are suggested in press statements as at fault.
When the DOTC announced its newly appointed officer-in-charge of MRT operations, Renato San Jose, the cause of what they call as “glitches” in MRT3 operations was again attributed to “human error” of the train drivers and control center personnel.
MRT3 workers interviewed by Bulatlat.com bewailed the implied criticism of MRT3 workers by San Jose. As if the maintenance providers had not failed to do its job and it is the workers who were at fault, San Jose reportedly said he will place “expert train technicians per train.”