President Aquino took up the cudgels yesterday for Transportation Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya for the mess involving the country’s light railway system.
In his sixth and last State of the Nation Address (SONA), Aquino said investors had neglected to overhaul and upgrade the rail system in 2008.
“They just let the situation get worse until they passed it on to us in its sorry state and expected us to fix it right away,” he said.
A private firm, MRT Corp., is supposed to be the owner of MRT-3. MRTC investors are led by Robert John Sobrepeña. However, two government-owned banks – Land Bank and Development Bank of the Philippines – hold about 80 percent of MRTC’s debt papers. The two banks have majority control of the corporation.
But MRTC claims that the two banks do not own the EDSA rail system despite holding the bulk of the firm’s debt. It argues that ownership is different from indebtedness.
Aquino said when the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) tried to fix MRT-3, “they (private investors) again said they would fix it.”
“But their suggestion is more expensive than our plan. Of course, this entails additional cost and inconvenience to the people,” the President said.
The President said private investors also stopped the DOTC from procuring new train coaches by securing a temporary restraining order from a Makati regional trial court.
The court eventually allowed the department to procure the coaches. The winning supplier is a Chinese firm.
Aquino said the DOTC is also in the process of introducing improvements in the Edsa rail facility, including an integrated automatic fare collection system.
Last year, the President had included about P54 billion in the P2.6-trillion 2015 budget for the buyout of the private owners in MRT-3.
Aquino also commended Abaya for the decision of the European Commission to lift the ban against all airlines from the Philippines and the recognition by the US Federal Aviation Administration when it upgraded the country to Category 1.
The DOTC said it remains committed to addressing the concerns of passengers and problems affecting the MRT -3.
An effigy of the President riding the MRT-3 train which had “Impyerno” written on it was brought by protesters along Commonwealth Avenue during his SONA.
“The government will continue to implement projects for the improvement of the MRT and our other trains,” the DOTC said in a statement. “We will not falter in this mission.”
To upgrade and modernize the MRT-3, the DOTC has undertaken a capacity expansion project, which involves the acquisition of 48 new trains.
The prototype train cars will be shipped on July 29, and arrive in the country in two weeks.
The 48 new trains are scheduled for delivery in the first quarter of next year. These new trains will be equipped with alternating current technology instead of the direct current system used at present to provide better traction and have less maintenance problems.
MRT-3, which covers the North Avenue station in Quezon City until Taft Avenue station in Pasay City, carries close to 600,000 passengers per day, well above its designed capacity of 350,000. – With Louella Desiderio