The transport department began yesterday secret negotiations for a P4.25-billion contract in Metro Manila’s MRT-3 commuter rail.

Selected “bidders” quietly were called in one-by-one to initial talks on the “project,” supposedly for maintenance of the railway, overhaul of 43 coaches, and a new signaling system.

Among yesterday’s attendees were power brokers from the ruling Liberal Party who have cornered MRT-3 maintenance deals since 2012. Transport Sec. Joseph Abaya is acting president of the LP.

“This can only happen in the Philippines,” a DOTC insider cried. “The supposedly upright democratic government is negotiating in total secrecy a whopping $100-million public utility deal.”

Abaya did not post the P4.25 billion in either website of the DOTC or PhilGEPS (Government Electronic Procurement System). He merely distributed last week to selected invitees copies of a 447-page manual on the negotiations.

It is entitled, “Negotiated Procurement for the DOTC-MRT3 Maintenance Service Provider, 43 LRV (Light Rail Vehicle) General Overhauling, and Total Replacement of Signaling System.” It has a total budget of P4,251,900,000.

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An MRT-3 engineer provided The STAR a copy of the document, consisting mostly of enticements to join, the project’s terms of reference, and contract procedures.

Among the enticements is to not make invitees post a bid security. Normally the government demands participants to deposit one-tenth of one percent of the project amount, in this case P4.25 million. This is to prevent prank bidders from messing up the months-long process.

“There is criminal intent here,” an expert in public bidding said. “With no bid securities, the DOTC can negotiate with just anyone, even if technically and financially unqualified.”

The Government Procurement Policy Board reportedly has not been informed of the talks. Abaya supposedly intends to get post-clearance from the inter-agency body that approves public biddings and closed-door negotiations for emergency purchases.

“How they can pull it off as an emergency, thus negotiated, procurement has yet to unravel,” a third source said. “Only clear so far is that they are acting with utter impunity. Although exposed in anomalies many times already, they are unperturbed. For, in ignoring their crimes, anti-graft agencies have virtually granted them immunity from suit.”

Yesterday Abaya tapped his top U-Sec. Rene Limcaoco to oversee the secret talks, the insiders said. Limcaoco had participated in past closed-door negotiations for MRT-3. Foremost was the 10-and-a-half-month, P535-million maintenance contract with PH Trams, owned by LP fundraisers who know nothing about railways.

MRT-3 general manager Roman Buenafe originally was to explain the works to the secret invitees at the rail depot in Quezon City. Last minute, Limcaoco took over the “preliminaries,” insiders said. Supposedly Buenafe has bad blood with one of the invitees, the LP point man in PH Trams and subsequent maintenance contractor Global Epcom.

In yesterday’s secret talks, the LP point man was representing a joint venture of Filipino and Korean firms. Assisting him was a familiar face in DOTC contracting, one of two brothers involved in aviation and railways supplies and manpower.

“Expect from the secret negotiations the P4.25-billion grant to that Filipino-Korean partnership,” a railway expert said. The partners were competitors in a recent bidding for the MRT’s sister operation, LRT-2. They teamed up this time on the brokering of the LP point man and the contractor-brothers.

The MRT-3 negotiated procurement has four components:

Maintenance, parts and services, P2,270,400,000, under a three-year MYOA (Multi-Year Obligational Authority)

General overhaul of 43 LRVs, parts and services, P1,013,560,000, three years, from the 2015 General Appropriations Act

Total replacement of the signaling system, goods and services, P900,000,000, 24 months, from the 2014 supplemental budget and

Additional maintenance works, goods and services, P67,900,000, six months, from the 2015 GAA.

Abaya et al have been linked to shady maintenance deals that deteriorated the MRT-3. He signed the contract with PH Trams, whose owners not only were LP mates but also one uncle-in-law of past-MRT-3 general manager Al Sanchez Vitangcol II. The latter was forced out of the post when exposed in this column.

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Now it’s the Iglesia ni Cristo minister-“victim” of illegal detention who’s suspecting Justice Sec. Leila de Lima of “selective justice.” That’s after the alleged abductors, who led last weekend’s INC protest at EDSA, announced to have reached an “agreement” with the government.

What the agreement is, if any, the abductee wants to know. It could mean that de Lima no longer would make him a protected witness, or even find probable cause against his abductors. He wonders if he became a pawn in a power game of the INC and the P-Noy admin.

All this is resulting from de Lima’s inconsistency, As pointed out last Monday, she admirably is fast to prosecute opposition politicians for pork-barrel plunder, but questionably ignores complaints against admin colleagues.

The abduction case arose from the rift between INC executive minister Eduardo Manalo with his mother Tenny and brother Angel. Implicated in the no-bail offense were all of Eduardo’s hierarchs, who then instigated the protest to avert purported unjust arrest by de Lima.

Talks ensued between the INC leaders and the admin. Noted for bloc voting, the INC hierarchs made known their intention to junk Mar Roxas, the admin’s presidential standard-bearer in 2016. Details of the talks were not publicized. But highlighting its political nature were news of Tenny’s supposed closeness to Roxas’ mother, Judy, and a detente between the feuding kin. Not helping any to assuage the abductee’s fears of whitewash is that de Lima has since clammed up.

Only consistency with justice can restore credibility in the system.

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