Ombudsman indicts Abaya over MRT mess

FORMER Transportation Secretary Joseph Emilio “Jun” Abaya and 16 others has been charged by the office of the Ombudsman with graft and corruption before the Sandiganbayan, citing anomalies in the 2016 maintenance contract for the Metro Rail Transit Line 3 (MRT-3) in which the government stood to lose more than P4 billion.

According to investigators, Abaya and other transport officials violated Section 3(e) of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act when they “extended unwarranted benefits, advantage and preference” to the MRT-3 maintenance contractor, Busan Joint Venture.

The Ombudsman, in a statement, said Busan was given special treatment despite not being technically, legally and financially capable to undertake the P3.8-billion, three-year maintenance deal.

The Ombudsman also accused the transport department and Busan of violating the rules for joint venture (JV), as only a potential private partner submitted a statement to enter into a JV, and Busan submitted a registration as a mere special-purpose company instead of a JV.

It castigated Abaya, claiming that he could not avoid responsibility by “invoking reliance on his subordinates, especially considering that the subject contract is one with a scope and magnitude affecting a big portion of the commuting public in Metro Manila, with an accompanying financial impact on the coffers of the government amounting to more than P4 billion.”

“By allowing the award of the contract to the Busan JV despite the attendant glaring irregularities, Abaya deliberately ignored applicable laws, rules and regulations, and standard operating procedures, falling short of or disregarding the required competence expected of him in the performance of his official functions,” it further claimed.

Enricka Gonzalez, who had served as Abaya’s spokeswoman at the transport agency, said they find the decision “unfortunate, considering that Secretary Jun clearly laid out his defense against the poorly crafted and unsubstantiated complaint filed by the [Department of Transportation].”

Meanwhile, Lawyer Charles Mercado, spokesman for Busan Universal Rail Inc. or BURI, refused to comment. 

“If and when we receive such a resolution, we shall study it and take the appropriate action, because it can be or may still be subject to further legal remedies,” he said.

Other former transport officials charged were undersecretaries Edwin Lopez, Rene Limcaoco and Catherine Jennifer Francis Gonzales; MRT-3 General Manager Roman Buenafe, Assistant Secretary Camille Alcaraz, Bids Committee Chairwoman Ofelia Astrera, Bids Committee Chairwoman Charissa Eloisa Julia Opulencia, and Oscar Bongon and Jose Rodante Sabayle.

Officials of the Busan JV, composed of Edison Development and Construction, Tramat, TMI Corp,, Inc., Castan Corp,, and BURI were also charged by the Ombudsman. These officials are Eldonn Ferdinand Uy of Edison; Elizabeth Velasco of Tramat; Belinda Tan of TMI; Brian Velasco of Castan; and Antonio Borromeo, Jun Ho Hwang and Elpidio Uy of BURI.

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