MRT CHIEF VITANGCOL PLANS TO RESIGN IN TIME; APOLOGIZES TO PASSENGERS

Embattled Metro Railway Transit (MRT) general manager Al Vitangcol III said he will voluntarily resign if and when he is cleared from allegations of extortion. Speaking to ANC's Headstart, Vitangcol said he has already planned to step down from his post and leave the public sector once proven that he did not try to extort $30 million from Czech firm Inekon Group in exchange for the contract to supply trains to the MRT system. He said quitting from his position at this time may be misinterpreted as an admission of guilt that he allegedly masterminded the supposed extort attempt, as claimed by Czech Ambassador Josef Rychtar. "I have considered resigning, okay, but not at this time. Because if I resign at this time, it might be construed as an admission of guilt. Once I'm cleared by all investigating bodies, nobody would ask me to resign, I will resign." The beleaguered MRT chief thinks that the Czech ambassador is just making up the extortion allegations, but for reasons he could not figure out. Vitangcol also claimed that officials from Malacañang or the Aquino administration are not protecting him. He said the President nor Interior and Local Government Sec. Mar Roxas, a former transportation and communications chief, have never spoken to him. "Nobody is protecting me. As I have mentioned, I am not a politician. I am a technocrat," he said. Some sectors are now calling for Vitangcol's resignation also because of his alleged "mismanagement" and "inefficiency" as MRT chief. Malacañang on Thursday said it is unfair to blame him for all the problems of the train system. While resisting such resignation calls, Vitangcol assured that the MRT management is doing its best to address the problems of the train system.

ALSO: P30M libel suit filed vs Czech envoy Joesf Rychtar, Inquirer

A former maintenance contractor of the Metro Rail Transit (MRT) filed a P30 million libel suit against Czech Ambassador to the Philippines Josef Rychtar. In a five-page complaint-affidavit filed before the Mandaluyong Prosecutors Office, Roehl Bacar, CEO of Comm Builders and Technology Philippines (CB&T) finds Rychtar’s statement which alleged that Bacar’s company bagged a six-month contract to maintain the MRT in October 2012 because of his connections with influential government officials to be malicious and libelous. Aside from Rychtar, Bacar also sued the Philippine Daily Inquirer led by their editor-in-chief Letty Jimenez Magsanoc for running the story on Rychtar’s allegations. He denied that he was being backed by the highest Department of Transportation and Communications officials and some politicians in the P3.8-billion MRT expansion project. “He [Amb. Rychtar] is lying. I didn’t say I have connections to high ranking government officials. I didn’t say I was highly connected,” Bacar told the Manila Bulletin. “I’m filing the case because I wanted to clear my name which has been tarnished by the malicious statement of Rychtar,” he added. Rychtar has not yet replied to Manila Bulletin’s queries. The complaint of Bacar stemmed from an article published in the national daily on Saturday, April 5, that mentioned a certain “Boyet Bacar” as one of those involved in a cooked joint venture that transferred the maintenance of MRT from contractor Sumitomo to PH Trams and CB&T, Bacar’s company. The newspaper report quoted an affidavit submitted by Czech envoy Rychtar to the House committee on good government and public accountability. PHOTO COURTESY CALL: Senator Franklin Drilon welcomes Czech Republic Ambassador Josef Rychtar to the Philippine Senate during a courtesy call this Monday Afternoon. (PRIB Photo by Cesar Tomambo/ July 15, 2013)

ALSO: Palace questions Czech envoy’s motive

THE Palace on Monday questioned the timing and motive of Czech Ambassador Josef Rychtar, who accused the head of the Metro Rail Transit of trying to extort $30 million from a Czech company Inekon in exchange for a train supply contract. “That issue came out a year ago. I don’t know why Ambassador Rychtar is trying to revive thi s issue,” presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said. At a press briefing, Lacierda was asked if Rychtar was blowing the whistle on a corrupt practice or merely sourgraping over a lost contract. “It may be one, it may be two, it may be both...The question of whether this is sourgraping is valid,” he said. While Lacierda said the government will not declare Rychtar persona non grata, he admonished the ambassador to cooperate with the probe initiated by the National Bureau of Investigation. “The important thing is, if you have an allegation, if you’re willing to face and present evidence of those allegations, then our investigative bodies are there to investigate. Until such time that you are prepared to present evidence, we cannot work on statements coming from media. That’s the reason why we want affidavits coming from those people who have knowledge, if at all, of any alleged wrongdoing,” Lacierda said. On Monday, Rychtar and Joseph Husek, the chairman and chief executive of the Czech company Inekon, informed Congress that they were prepared to testify about the extortion attempt by Metro Rail Transit (MRT) general manager Al Vitangcol III and other Liberal Party officials. Rychtar had earlier cooperated with the NBI and submitted an affidavit to the House of Representatives in February. He did not, however, submit an affidavit to the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) for its administrative investigation, prompting Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya and Lacierda to blame the envoy for the probe’s termination. “There was no cooperation on the part of the ambassador. Just because it [MRT] is an agency attached to the DOTC does not mean that the DOTC cannot initiate an objective investigation,” Lacierda said. READ MORE...

 ALSO: Envoy calls dare to shed immunity; ready to testify in Congress

CZECH Ambassador to Manila Josef Rychtar (photo) said he is ‘100 percent ready” to waive his diplomatic immunity and testify before Congress on the alleged attempt by the head of the Metro Rail Transit to extort $30 million from Czech company Inekon in exchange for a train supply contract. In a television interview Monday evening, Rychtar also turned the tables on Transportation Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya, who accused the ambassador of not cooperating in the department’s probe on the alleged involvement of MRT general manager Al Vitangcol III. Rychtar made the remarks after Vitangcol dared him to waive his diplomatic immunity and after Palace spokesman Edwin Lacierda cast doubts on his motives and suggested that he testify at the proper forum. Rychtar said he had already reported the alleged extortion attempt to Abaya during a two-hour meeting on April 11, 2013, but to no avail. The ambassador also expressed dismay at the slow pace of the separate probe being conducted by the National Bureau of Investigation. “A year ago, I presented initial information to Abaya. I gave them [the NBI] every document that they asked before I left for my vacation,” he said. “I came back at the end of September 2013, and I was surprised because the (previous meeting) seemed to be for nothing. They said I must bring an affidavit first before they can start the investigation,” the ambassa-dor added. Rychtar said he already spoke with Pampanga Rep. Oscar Rodriguez, chairman of the House Committee on Good Government and Public Accountability. “I told him that I’m 100-percent ready to appear and to defend my story...I’m ready to go on invitation to Congress and to testify,” the ambassador said. Rodriguez said this would be the first time, to his recollection, that an ambassador would testify before Congress as he raised concerns over Rychtar’s diplomatic immunity. “I’ve been in Congress for 14 years and I cannot recall an incident where an ambassador testified before a committee. Even if he says something that is not true, we cannot charge him with contempt because he has diplomatic immunity,” Rodriguez said. Observers said Rychtar’s unflinching position and willingness to testify indicated that he has the full support of the Czech government in exposing the alleged extortion attempt.

ALSO: Palace urges public to ride 'uncongested' buses amid MRT woes

Malacañang is advising Metro Manila commuters to try other modes of transportation if they experience discomfort when riding the Metro Rail Transit (MRT). Presidential Communications Sec. Sonny Coloma said the commuters might want to take the thousands of passenger buses that ply EDSA while the additional MRT train coaches or cars have yet to arrive. Unlike the MRT trains and stations, Coloma said the buses traversing EDSA are "uncongested." But he also noted that riding the MRT trains has advantages in terms of economy and efficiency since there is no traffic. "'Yung MRT lang ba ang puwedeng sakyan doon sa mga rutang dinadaanan nito? Baka naman puwedeng matuklasan 'yung iba pang mga options, ano, 'yung ma-encourage din silang gumamit ng ibang means of transportation," Presidential Communications Sec. Sonny Coloma said in a press briefing on Thursday. "Alam natin na sa EDSA lang, libu-libo ang mga passenger buses. Hindi naman siksikan 'yung mga bus na 'yon," he added. Coloma also defended embattled MRT general manager Al Vitangcol who is being urged by some sectors to resign.

ALSO: DOTC exec: No more long MRT queues in 2015

Passengers of the Metro Rail Transit (MRT-3) would still have to endure long lines for several more months since the additional train coaches and the new ticketing system will only be operational by 2015. During the hearing of the Senate Finance Committee on Monday, Transportation and Communication Undersecretary Rene Limcaoco said it is possible to have a "line-less" MRT-3 if there are more train coaches and an Automatic Fare Collection System (AFCS). "Dito ho sa tren, pwede ho yung wala nang pila. As long as we get those additional trains and the AFCS," Limcaoco told Sen. Chiz Escudero during the televised Senate hearing. General Manager Al Vitangcol III said they will be acquiring 48 new train coaches or cars that will be connected to form new trains. Starting February next year, three coaches will arrive every month, Vitangcol said. The delivery of all the 48 new coaches, which will be available for immediate use, will be completed by 2016. THIS IS THE COMPLETE ARTICLE.


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MRT chief plans to resign in time; apologizes to passengers


MRT General Manager Al Vitangcol Image from http://dotc-mrt3.weebly.com/

MANILA, APRIL 14, 2014 (PHILSTAR) Embattled Metro Railway Transit (MRT) general manager Al Vitangcol III said he will voluntarily resign if and when he is cleared from allegations of extortion.

Speaking to ANC's Headstart, Vitangcol said he has already planned to step down from his post and leave the public sector once proven that he did not try to extort $30 million from Czech firm Inekon Group in exchange for the contract to supply trains to the MRT system.

He said quitting from his position at this time may be misinterpreted as an admission of guilt that he allegedly masterminded the supposed extort attempt, as claimed by Czech Ambassador Josef Rychtar.

"I have considered resigning, okay, but not at this time. Because if I resign at this time, it might be construed as an admission of guilt. Once I'm cleared by all investigating bodies, nobody would ask me to resign, I will resign."

The beleaguered MRT chief thinks that the Czech ambassador is just making up the extortion allegations, but for reasons he could not figure out.

Vitangcol also claimed that officials from Malacañang or the Aquino administration are not protecting him. He said the President nor Interior and Local Government Sec. Mar Roxas, a former transportation and communications chief, have never spoken to him.

"Nobody is protecting me. As I have mentioned, I am not a politician. I am a technocrat," he said.

Some sectors are now calling for Vitangcol's resignation also because of his alleged "mismanagement" and "inefficiency" as MRT chief.

"Siya mismo ay [dapat] magtender ng voluntary resignation and then give way dun sa mahuhusay o marunong sa technical aspect ng MRT or LRT, particularly sa management aspect. Hindi siya focused sa tungkulin, focused siya sa corruption," Riles Network convenor Sammy Malunes told ANC in a phone-patch interview on Thursday.

Malacañang on Thursday said it is unfair to blame him for all the problems of the train system.

While resisting such resignation calls, Vitangcol assured that the MRT management is doing its best to address the problems of the train system.

Claiming that he knows the plight of the passengers because he rides the MRT on a weekly basis for his inspections, Vitangcol also apologized to the commuting public for the inconvenience in their riding experience.

"I apologize to all our passengers for the inconvenience that they have suffered, but the MRT3 is doing, exerting its best effort so that the lines will be alleviated and we strive to improve the service. And when the new trains arrive, I am sure that there will no longer be congestion.

In a Senate hearing earlier this week, Vitangcol said they will be acquiring 48 new train coaches or cars that will be connected to form trains.

Vitangcol said three coaches will arrive every month starting February next year and will be completed by 2016.

The MRT is currently servicing up to 560,000 passengers daily, almost double its capacity of 350,000, according to Vitangcol. -Louis Bacani

FROM MANILA BULLETIN

P30M libel suit filed vs Czech envoy, Inquirer by Leonard Postrado April 10, 2014 (updated)


COURTESY CALL: Senator Franklin Drilon welcomes Czech Republic Ambassador Josef Rychtar to the Philippine Senate during a courtesy call this Monday Afternoon. (PRIB Photo by Cesar Tomambo/ July 15, 2013)

A former maintenance contractor of the Metro Rail Transit (MRT) filed a P30 million libel suit against Czech Ambassador to the Philippines Josef Rychtar.

In a five-page complaint-affidavit filed before the Mandaluyong Prosecutors Office, Roehl Bacar, CEO of Comm Builders and Technology Philippines (CB&T) finds Rychtar’s statement which alleged that Bacar’s company bagged a six-month contract to maintain the MRT in October 2012 because of his connections with influential government officials to be malicious and libelous.

Aside from Rychtar, Bacar also sued the Philippine Daily Inquirer led by their editor-in-chief Letty Jimenez Magsanoc for running the story on Rychtar’s allegations.

He denied that he was being backed by the highest Department of Transportation and Communications officials and some politicians in the P3.8-billion MRT expansion project.

“He [Amb. Rychtar] is lying. I didn’t say I have connections to high ranking government officials. I didn’t say I was highly connected,” Bacar told the Manila Bulletin.

“I’m filing the case because I wanted to clear my name which has been tarnished by the malicious statement of Rychtar,” he added.

Rychtar has not yet replied to Manila Bulletin’s queries.

The complaint of Bacar stemmed from an article published in the national daily on Saturday, April 5, that mentioned a certain “Boyet Bacar” as one of those involved in a cooked joint venture that transferred the maintenance of MRT from contractor Sumitomo to PH Trams and CB&T, Bacar’s company.

The newspaper report quoted an affidavit submitted by Czech envoy Rychtar to the House committee on good government and public accountability.

Rychtar supposedly said in his affidavit that the transfer of maintenance operations to CB&T and PH Trams was “backed by the highest DOTC officials and some politicians.”

However, Bacar denies that he has connections with the DOTC as claimed by Rychtar.

Meanwhile, the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) is set to come out with its full-report on the $30 million shakedown attempt on a Czech supplier of trains by MRT officials by next week, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said.

De Lima said she already talked to NBI director Virgilio Mendez to expedite the release of the report on the multi-million dollar extortion as alleged by Rychtar and railway firm Inekon Group (Inekon).

Palace questions Czech envoy’s motive
By Joyce Pangco Panares, Christine F. Herrera, Macon Ramos-Araneta and Maricel V. Cruz | Apr. 08, 2014 at 12:01am
28
Raises sourgraping slant over lost MRT contract

THE Palace on Monday questioned the timing and motive of Czech Ambassador Josef Rychtar, who accused the head of the Metro Rail Transit of trying to extort $30 million from a Czech company Inekon in exchange for a train supply contract.

“That issue came out a year ago. I don’t know why Ambassador Rychtar is trying to revive thi s issue,” presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said.

At a press briefing, Lacierda was asked if Rychtar was blowing the whistle on a corrupt practice or merely sourgraping over a lost contract.

FROM THE MANILA STANDARD

Envoy calls dare to shed immunity By Joyce Pangco Panares, Christine F. Herrera | Apr. 09, 2014 at 12:01am

Czech diplomat ready to testify in Congress

CZECH Ambassador to Manila Josef Rychtar (photo) said he is ‘100 percent ready” to waive his diplomatic immunity and testify before Congress on the alleged attempt by the head of the Metro Rail Transit to extort $30 million from Czech company Inekon in exchange for a train supply contract.

In a television interview Monday evening, Rychtar also turned the tables on Transportation Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya, who accused the ambassador of not cooperating in the department’s probe on the alleged involvement of MRT general manager Al Vitangcol III.

Rychtar made the remarks after Vitangcol dared him to waive his diplomatic immunity and after Palace spokesman Edwin Lacierda cast doubts on his motives and suggested that he testify at the proper forum.

Rychtar said he had already reported the alleged extortion attempt to Abaya during a two-hour meeting on April 11, 2013, but to no avail.

The ambassador also expressed dismay at the slow pace of the separate probe being conducted by the National Bureau of Investigation.

“A year ago, I presented initial information to Abaya. I gave them [the NBI] every document that they asked before I left for my vacation,” he said.

“I came back at the end of September 2013, and I was surprised because the (previous meeting) seemed to be for nothing. They said I must bring an affidavit first before they can start the investigation,” the ambassa-dor added.

Rychtar said he already spoke with Pampanga Rep. Oscar Rodriguez, chairman of the House Committee on Good Government and Public Accountability.

“I told him that I’m 100-percent ready to appear and to defend my story...I’m ready to go on invitation to Congress and to testify,” the ambassador said.

Rodriguez said this would be the first time, to his recollection, that an ambassador would testify before Congress as he raised concerns over Rychtar’s diplomatic immunity.

“I’ve been in Congress for 14 years and I cannot recall an incident where an ambassador testified before a committee. Even if he says something that is not true, we cannot charge him with contempt because he has diplomatic immunity,” Rodriguez said.

Observers said Rychtar’s unflinching position and willingness to testify indicated that he has the full support of the Czech government in exposing the alleged extortion attempt.

Deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte described Rychtar’s recent pronouncement as a “good development.”

But Lacierda raised questions on the timing and motive of Rychtar’s efforts to revive the issue.

He also said the ambassador’s allegations might be a case of sour grapes.

On Tuesday, an opposition lawmaker accused the administration and the ruling Liberal Party (LP) of harassing the Czech ambassador.

“Malacanang should stop LP members from claiming that this issue is a harassment case against the ruling party, because as it is Ambassador Rychtar is the one being harassed now by Malacanang,” said House Sen-ior Deputy Minority Leader and Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares said.

Colmenares lambasted the Liberals for trying to “obscure the MRT extortion issue” by employing the defense used by politicians charged with corruption.

By questioning Rychtar’s motives, Colmenares said, the Liberals were essentially accusing the Czech ambassador of being part of a scheme to harass the ruling party ahead of the 2016 elections.

“This is a serious allegation which will further fuel the antagonism of the international community. We challenge those who say this to file charges against Ambassador Rychtar if they have evidence that he, a for-eigner, is interfering in our local politics, which is illegal under the Omnibus Election Code,” Colmenares said.

House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. denied that De Vera was a member of the Liberal Party but said he could answer the charges raised against him when he is summoned before the House investigation of the al-leged extortion attempt.

“I never heard of this De Vera identified as an LP leader or member. Who is he? Why would anybody deal with him? At any rate all them can repeat their stories and evidence at the House hearing,” Belmonte told the Manila Standard.

Other House leaders said Congress needed to hear all the facts behind the alleged extortion attempt so that it could pass laws to address such situations.

House Deputy Majority Leader Sherwin Tugna said this was apart from the filing of criminal charges against those found guilty of extortion.

But Cavite Rep. Elpidio Barzaga, Jr. and House Deputy Majority Leader Jorge Banal of Quezon City said a House probe is no longer necessary.

“The Senate has already started its investigation and the President has also ordered the NBI to start its probe on the MRT issue. Let us just wait for the final conclusion of these investigations,” Barzaga said.

Banal said a House probe would only duplicate what the Senate had been doing.

On Sunday, Abaya cleared Vitangcol of administrative charges and blamed Rychtar for being uncooperative during the probe by not showing up when invited to shed light on his accusation that Vitangcol not only attempted to extort money but also tried to pressure Inekon into a joint venture with a Filipino firm run by his men.

On Friday, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said the NBI has already wrapped up its investigation, but the report is still being reviewed by the legal division.

Sources told the Manila Standard the NBI is likely to clear Vitangcol.

Rychtar said Vitangcol appears to be “protected” as the MRT head has not been sanctioned. “You can see that Vitangcol has a very firm position.... I think that he is covered. He is protected.”

Rychter said the extortion attempt took place on July 9, 2012.

He said Vitangcol, a businessman named Wilson de Vera who is a member of the President’s Liberal Party, and a certain M. de la Cruz, had dinner with Inekon Group board chairman Josef Husek and a certain Ine-kon executive named Haloun.

The ambassador said Vitangcol left after the dinner, while the rest of them headed to Rychtar’s residence to continue the discussion on the MRT project.

He said De Vera, whom Rychtar described as Vitangcol’s emissary, broached the $30 million grease money, which Husek said was too much.

Rychtar said De Vera made two phone calls, after which he lowered the amount to $2.5 million.

“Finally, the Czech company did not participate in the bidding process due to its unclear terms of reference and suspicious circumstances around the bidding process itself,” Rychtar said.

The government eventually awarded the P3.8-billion contract for 48 new MRT coaches to CNR Dalian Locomotive & Rolling Stock Co. of China. – With Maricel V. Cruz

Palace questions Czech envoy’s motive By Joyce Pangco Panares, Christine F. Herrera, Macon Ramos-Araneta and Maricel V. Cruz | Apr. 08, 2014 at 12:01am

Raises sourgraping slant over lost MRT contract


Money talk. Metro Rail Transit general manager Al Vitangcol tells Senator Francis Escudero his
agency’s “financial absorptive capacity” even as congressmen called for Vitangcol’s resignation
amid the MRT train acquisition scandal involving a Czech company. EY ACASIO

THE Palace on Monday questioned the timing and motive of Czech Ambassador Josef Rychtar, who accused the head of the Metro Rail Transit of trying to extort $30 million from a Czech company Inekon in exchange for a train supply contract.

“That issue came out a year ago. I don’t know why Ambassador Rychtar is trying to revive thi s issue,” presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said.

At a press briefing, Lacierda was asked if Rychtar was blowing the whistle on a corrupt practice or merely sourgraping over a lost contract.

“It may be one, it may be two, it may be both...The question of whether this is sourgraping is valid,” he said.

While Lacierda said the government will not declare Rychtar persona non grata, he admonished the ambassador to cooperate with the probe initiated by the National Bureau of Investigation.

“The important thing is, if you have an allegation, if you’re willing to face and present evidence of those allegations, then our investigative bodies are there to investigate. Until such time that you are prepared to present evidence, we cannot work on statements coming from media. That’s the reason why we want affidavits coming from those people who have knowledge,

if at all, of any alleged wrongdoing,” Lacierda said.

On Monday, Rychtar and Joseph Husek, the chairman and chief executive of the Czech company Inekon, informed Congress that they were prepared to testify about the extortion attempt by Metro Rail Transit (MRT) general manager Al Vitangcol III and other Liberal Party officials.

Rychtar had earlier cooperated with the NBI and submitted an affidavit to the House of Representatives in February.

He did not, however, submit an affidavit to the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) for its administrative investigation, prompting Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya and Lacierda to blame the envoy for the probe’s termination.

“There was no cooperation on the part of the ambassador. Just because it [MRT] is an agency attached to the DOTC does not mean that the DOTC cannot initiate an objective investigation,” Lacierda said.

“For the lack of participation from Ambassador Rychtar, they had to close that investigation. However, there is an NBI investigation that is ongoing, and we certainly encourage Ambassador Rychtar that if he has anything to say, to put it on record, under oath,” he added.

Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said the NBI would submit its report on the alleged extortion attempt next week after the Palace told the bureau to speed up its investigation.

De Lima said last week the NBI had already wrapped up its investigation, but said the report was still being reviewed by the legal division.

She said Monday the Palace would not review the report.

Rychtar accused Vitangcol of being behind the attempt to extort $30 million from Inekon, one of the top 100 corporations in the Czech Republic that is involved in railway projects in several European countries and the United States.

The government eventually awarded the P3.8-billion contract for 48 new MRT coaches to CNR Dalian Locomotive & Rolling Stock Co. of China.

Lacierda earlier accused Rychtar of lying when the ambassador said Abaya shouted at him over the phone after presidential sister Ballsy Aquino-Cruz and her husband Eldon were dragged into the controversy.

Rychtar eventually cleared the Cruz couple of any involvement in the extortion attempt.

In recent statements, Rychtar said Vitangcol appeared to be “protected” by powerful people because he had not beeen disciplined over the incident.

“You can see that Vitangcol has a very firm position... so I think that he is protected,” the ambassador said.

Rychtar said the extortion attempt took place on July 9, 2012.

He said Vitangcol, a businessman named Wilson de Vera who is a member of the President’s Liberal Party, and a certain M. de la Cruz, had dinner with Inekon Group board chairman Josef Husek and a certain Inekon executive named Haloun.

The ambassador said Vitangcol left after the dinner, while the rest of them headed to Rychtar’s residence to continue the discussion on the MRT project.

He said De Vera, whom Rychtar described as Vitangcol’s emissary, broached the $30 million grease money, Husek said was too much.

Rychtar said De Vera made two phone calls, after which he lowered the amount to $2.5 million.

“Finally, the Czech company did not participate in the bidding process due to its unclear terms of reference and suspicious circumstances around the bidding process itself,” Rychtar said.

Rychtar said Abaya did not act on the probe despite committing to do so during their two-hour meeting on April 11, 2013.

Abaya earlier said that Rychtar’s allegations “came with a business agenda.”

But Rychtar said he and Husek were ready to testify before Congress, and that they wanted the government to look into the “suspicious circumstances, which led to a questionable bidding process in March 2013.”

As early as October last year, the ambassador said he had submitted to the National Bureau of Investigation and the Department of Foreign Affairs a detailed affidavit about the extortion attempt, which he confirmed to Congress happened in July 2012.

He said Abaya was made aware of the extortion attempt during a meeting on April 11, 2013, but did nothing.

Husek, for his part, corroborated everything that Rychtar said in his affidavit.

“This witness statement is written in English. While I have a good command of the language, I may not be completely comfortable expressing more complex thoughts in English orally in a formal judicial setting. Therefore, if I appear at any judicial, administrative or other proceedings, or investigation, I would request the option to testify with the support of a translator from and to my native language, which is Czech,” Husek said.

After the Czechs refused to pay the grease money, Rychtar said, Vitangcol and his men started to treat them “with contempt.”

He identified Wilson de Vera as Vitangcol’s “envoy” in negotiating the $30 million extortion.

De Vera ran but lost his mayoralty bid in Pangasinan under the LP banner in 2013 midterm polls.

The sequence of events convinced the ambassador that the bidding process had been rigged to the disadvantage of the Czech company, he said.

Rychtar said aside from meeting Abaya for two hours on April 11, he also submitted a document to the Foreign Affairs Department detailing the embassy’s complaint.

Rychtar also informed the DFA that Abaya asked him for another meeting on July 17, after news reports dragged President Benigno Aquion III’s sisyter Ballsy Cruz into the controversy.

He said he and Abaya discussed the points already raised during their April 11 meeting.

“It was evident that Secretary Abaya has not undertaken any investigation on the matter until that day,” Rychtar told the DFA in a letter, a copy of which was furnished to the House committee on good government and public accountability headed by Rep. Oscar Rodriguez, a Liberal.

On Sunday, Abaya cleared Vitangcol of administrative charges and blamed Rychtar for not cooperating with the department’s investigation.

But Rychtar said he was cooperative and accepted an invitation on July 23 from NBI investigators to elaborate on his allegations. He also provided the NBI with the information and documents they needed, he added.

“Since April 11, 2013, Secretary Abaya was well-informed of the extortion. Secretary Abaya is also aware of the content of the unofficial text message sent to the ambassador that there is no chance for the Czech company to compete in any MRT deals,” the Czech Embassy told the DFA in a letter.

“We would also welcome if the Malacanang spokesperson Lacierda stop issuing public statements to media instructing the Ambassador or embassy what to do. We consider DFA as the communication channel,” the embassy letter said.

Vitangcol on Monday dared Rychtar to shed his diplomatic immunity and face him in court.

He denied Rychtar’s allegations and said the ambassador might just be “confused” because the Czech company lost the bidding.

Speaking to reporters after a hearing by the Senate committee on finance, Vitangcol said there was no truth to the Czech ambassador’s claims.

“I was not in his house. I did not go to his house. If he was saying that they had a negotiation there and allegedly, I was on top of it, I can categorically say that these were all lies and there’s no truth to these things. All the persons involved here, all the personalities which he mentioned, they all said on their own capacity that what the ambassador said were all lies,” Vitangcol said.

He could not offer a reason for the ambassador to lie, however.

Vitangcol said the procurement of the new MRT coaches was “open and transparent” and said Inekon’s bid was way over the budget, at $3.3 million per train car.

In the same hearing, DOTC officials said commuters will have to wait until late 2015 or early 2016 before the Metro Rail Transit 3 trains can be decongested.

They said the delivery of train coaches being procured will be completed by 2016 as it takes time to produce the cars to fit the MRT specifications.

Senate finance committee chairman Francis Escudero urged the department to think ahead and start acquiring more coaches to meet the anticipated rise in passenger traffic in the coming years.

“The problem with these trains is that they are not off-the-shelf. You cannot award it and then just like a paperclip or pencil or bond paper, you will buy at National Bookstore.... You have to actually manufacture these trains,” he said.

At present, he said a total of 48 new cars will be acquired, with the delivery to be staggered at three cars a month starting February next year.

He later described the corporate setup at the MRT “a mess” and said contentious issues on operational control and ownership impeded the development of the train system.

Aside from the additional coaches, DOTC Undersecretary Rene Limcaoco said the automated fare collection system (AFCS), which will not be ready until September 2015, ill also decongest the ticket stations of the MRT and LRT.

He said the automated and contact-less single ticketing system for the MRT and LRT would allow commuters to reload their tickets outside train stations and just “tap and go” like they do in Hong Kong.

The MRT 3 was built as a build-lease-transfer project in 1999. Another Czech firm, CKD Prague, has supplied the 73 trams. CKD was acquired by Siemens and then by Inekon.

For about two years now, Inekon has pushed for a government-to-government contract to provide 52 new light rail vehicles and 21 option cars as well as a refurbishing and maintenance deal for the existing fleet.

The company points out that this is pursuant to the original contract, which provides that the MRT 3 and original equipment manufacturer should undertake capacity expansion after five years.

Vitangcol had earlier been asked to appear before the NBI to respond to Rychtar’s allegations.

Aside from Vitangcol, the NBI also subpoenaed De Vera.

De Vera later became part of the consortium PH Trams-CB &T JV, which replaced Japan’s Sumitomo Corp. as MRT-3 maintenance provider in October last year. The maintenance contract was extended by a month last July.

In a five-page affidavit, Husek recounted how MRT officials led by Vitangcol allegedly tried to extort money from them.

At least three meetings had taken place between the MRT and Inekon officials, according to Husek, and it was during the second meeting, which took place in Rychtar’s official residence in Forbes Park,

Makati City, where the shakedown took place, he said.

NBI sources said the bureau would clear Vitangcol of the alleged shakedown and confirmed that the 30-page report has already been submitted for review by the legal department.

“Definitely, Vitangcol will not be included among those who will face criminal complaints since it was not established that the MRT chief was really involved in the alleged shakedown incident,” one of the NBI sources said.

Another source said the President’s sister and her husband were not involved in the extortion attempt.

“Rychtar submitted a sworn statement to the NBI and he cleared the President’s relatives,” the source said.

The sources said Inekon and Rychtar failed to provide enough evidence to link Vitangcol to the alleged shakedown.

Three members of the House of Representatives on Monday demanded that Vitangcol resign, or at least take a leave of absence until the NBI resleased the results of its probe.

Ako-Bicol party-list Rep. Rodel Batocabe and 1-BAP party-list Rep. Silvestre Bello III, in separate interviews with the Manila Standard, said that either a leave of absence or resignation is the most

honorable thing to do to save the Aquino government from embarassment.

But Abakada party-list Rep. Jonathan de la Cruz demanded Vitangcol’s resignation out of delicadeza or out of a sense of propriety.

De la Cruz, a member of the House independent minority bloc, said Vitangcol should leave his

post at the soonest possible time if there is any shame left in him.

“He already went on leave before. With this development, his integrity is once again under a cloud. He can no longer be effective,” De la Cruz told the Manila Standard. “He should really resign even if he is presumed innocent at this point,” De la Cruz added.

Batocabe said Vitangcol could go back anytime to public service as soon as he is cleared from wrongdoing.

But Speaker Feliciano Belmonte, Jr., a Liberal like Abaya, cleared Vitangcol.

“I think the ambassador has a fertile imagination,” Belmonte told the Manila Standard.

Isabela Rep. Rodolfo Albano III, member for the minority bloc of the House committee on transportation and communications, vouched for the integrity of Vitangcol.

“The guy is clean and beyond reproach. He came in after the bribe scandal,” Albano said.

Cavite Rep. Elpidio Barzaga, Jr. and House Deputy Majority Leader Sherwin Tugna of Citizens Battle Against Corruption (Cibac) party-list said that Vitangcol should be given his day in court.

Palace urges public to ride 'uncongested' buses amid MRT woes (philstar.com) | Updated April 11, 2014 - 9:55am 6 302 googleplus0 0


Buses clog a major thoroughfare in Manila.
Chris Griffin

MANILA, Philippines — Malacañang is advising Metro Manila commuters to try other modes of transportation if they experience discomfort when riding the Metro Rail Transit (MRT).

Presidential Communications Sec. Sonny Coloma said the commuters might want to take the thousands of passenger buses that ply EDSA while the additional MRT train coaches or cars have yet to arrive.

Unlike the MRT trains and stations, Coloma said the buses traversing EDSA are "uncongested."

But he also noted that riding the MRT trains has advantages in terms of economy and efficiency since there is no traffic.

"'Yung MRT lang ba ang puwedeng sakyan doon sa mga rutang dinadaanan nito? Baka naman puwedeng matuklasan 'yung iba pang mga options, ano, 'yung ma-encourage din silang gumamit ng ibang means of transportation," Presidential Communications Sec. Sonny Coloma said in a press briefing on Thursday.

"Alam natin na sa EDSA lang, libu-libo ang mga passenger buses. Hindi naman siksikan 'yung mga bus na 'yon," he added.

Coloma also defended embattled MRT general manager Al Vitangcol who is being urged by some sectors to resign.

The Palace official said that it is "overreaching" if all the problems of the train system will be blamed to Vitangcol.

Instead, Coloma cited the increasing population and the commuters' preference to take the trains as among the factors behind the MRT problems.

"'Yun namang pagdami ng tao, e 'yon ba ay maisisisi kay Ginoong Vitangcol?... It comes from the natural increase in population and the propensity of commuters to use a particular mode of public transportation over another," Coloma said. -Louis Bacani

DOTC exec: No more long MRT queues in 2015 By Louis Bacani (philstar.com) | Updated April 7, 2014 - 3:32pm 7 284 googleplus0 0

MANILA, Philippines - Passengers of the Metro Rail Transit (MRT-3) would still have to endure long lines for several more months since the additional train coaches and the new ticketing system will only be operational by 2015.

During the hearing of the Senate Finance Committee on Monday, Transportation and Communication Undersecretary Rene Limcaoco said it is possible to have a "line-less" MRT-3 if there are more train coaches and an Automatic Fare Collection System (AFCS).

"Dito ho sa tren, pwede ho yung wala nang pila. As long as we get those additional trains and the AFCS," Limcaoco told Sen. Chiz Escudero during the televised Senate hearing.

General Manager Al Vitangcol III said they will be acquiring 48 new train coaches or cars that will be connected to form new trains.

Starting February next year, three coaches will arrive every month, Vitangcol said. The delivery of all the 48 new coaches, which will be available for immediate use, will be completed by 2016.


Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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