WATCH | ‘KAILANGANG MAY MANAGOT’ | DOTr’s Chavez quits over MRT woes

November 23, 2017 - 9:28 AM
DOTr Undersecretary Cesar Chavez explains the circumstances of the accident that severed the arm of Angeline Fernando, who fell onto a coupler of an MRT train. The limb was successfully reattached by surgeons. (PhilStar file photo by Boy Santos)

MANILA, Philippines — (UPDATE 5 – 9:07 p.m.) Transportation Undersecretary for Rails Cesar Chavez announced his “irrevocable” resignation Thursday, November 23, over the woes that have been hounding the Metro Rail Transit Line 3, or MRT-3.

“In my seven years in the rail sector under two presidents, President (Gloria Macapagl) Arroyo and President (Rodrigo) Duterte, I learned something: spare parts and management are replaceable,” Chavez said at a press briefing.

Kung hindi nakakabili ng spare parts, nagkaka-aberya. Kung kulang ang performance ng management, nagkakaproblema (If we cannot buy spare parts, it breaks down. If management’s performance is wanting, problems arise). I am tendering my irrevocable resignation,” Chavez said.

“And I want … to give a chance to the President to appoint a new one. Salamat po sa tiwala (Thank you for the trust),” he added.

In a radio interview, Chavez said his resignation was effective immediately and that he had written his letter the day two MRT-3 coaches detached from a train.

He added that Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III, whom he consulted on his planned resignation, tried to dissuade him.

Kaya lang kailangang may managot eh. Tingin ko pananagutan ko rin naman ‘yung hinahanap ng publiko na hindi pa kaagad maiayos pati ‘yung aksidente. Kailangang may managot eh. At sa tingin ko pananagutan ko ‘yun kaya ako nag-tender ng irrevocable resignation bilang delicadeza.”

(But someone needs to be held accountable. I think I’m the person the public is looking to hold accountable for not fixing the trains immediately and the recent accident. Someone should be responsible. And I think that’s my responsibility so I tendered my irrevocable resignation out of propriety).

Reacting to Chavez’s resignation, the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan said it was “shocked” and asked if the DOTr official “was eased out and forced to resign because he won’t kowtow to certain vested interests?”

Bayan secretary general Renato Reyes Jr. said Chavez “has been consistent in exposing the anomalies in various MRT contracts,” citing his work “with commuter groups and advocates” and for opening “the bidding processes to independent observers.”

“It therefore makes no sense that Chavez resigned right after the termination of the BURI contract,” Reyes said, referring to the now defunct deal making Busan International Railways Inc. the MRT-3’s maintenance provider.

“Chavez’s resignation does not bode well for the DoTr and may be reflective of conflicts within the department,” he added.

Tugade: I did not cause Chavez to resign

Transportation Secretary Art Tugade was stung by speculation he was behind the resignation of Chavez, who had been the DOTr’s most familiar face in months of endless crisis at the rail sector.

“For the record, and contrary to the insinuations of others, I did not cause or ask Usec. Cesar Chavez to resign. He has my full trust and confidence. We have been doing plans and strategies together, up and until yesterday. Even by texts as I was on sickbay. That is why I am surprised by the very sudden turn of events.”

‘Poe: no to politically connected replacement’

Sen. Grace Poe, who has led several Senate heearings into the travails of the MRT3, urged Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade “to immediately find a new but qualified undersecretary for rails,” someone “who will hit the ground running as we cannot afford a mere politically connected OJT.”

“The interest of the public and the improvement of the country’s transportation system should be the foremost considerations in choosing a new person at the helm, rather than political accommodation or reciprocity,” Poe said.

She said Tugade should “carefully look into the qualifications, capability, competence and commitment of the person because the task at hand is complex and has critical impact on the lives of our commuting public.”

Sen. Joel Villanueva praised Chavez for “his honesty and humility to be accountable for the recent MRT problems.”

“We have high respect for Usec. Cesar Chavez. He has been on the frontline uncovering anomalies in the MRT. His sudden resignation surprised us,” Villanueva said in a statement.

The senator said DOTr officials should “continue what he started: unearth and address the real issues, anomalies and problems in the DOTr.”

Graft complaint

On Monday, Bayan filed a graft complaint before the Office of the Ombudsman against Joseph Emilio Abaya, the Transport chief of former President Benigno Aquino III, and also accused him and former officials of the agency with violating government procurement laws over the BURI contract, among others.

Senator Grace Poe also doubted “delicadeza” was the only reason Chavez resigned.

“He seemed to be one of the DOTr officials who was determined to fully address all the issues plaguing the MRT,” she said. “I recall he was instrumental in unearthing the persons involved in anomalies that caused these issues.”

At the same time, Poe said “it is time to evaluate the actions and the leadership of the DOTr as a whole in connection with how issues hounding the MRT have been addressed.”

Bayan Muna party-list Representative Carlos Zarate also weighed in on Chavez’s resignation, calling it “unfortunate” but “not surprising” given the “powerful economic and political  interests that he stepped into while addressing the rotten and derailed MRT-3 rail system.”

Zarate predicted that the DOTr undersecretary’s resignation would bring “not an improvement, but an even worse MRT service.”

He called Chavez “”one of the more open public officials under the DOTr,” noting how he “often invites groups and people’s organizations to check or consult on how to deal with the rail problems in the country.”

At the same time, Zarate called the breakdown-plagued mass transport system “emblematic of the grave and utter failure of the government’s onerous privatization program and abandonment of its primary role and control of our public mass transportation system.”

Caloocan Representative Edgar Erice said so long as the MRT remains privately owned, “the worst is yet to come.”

“It’s high time that government acquires the ownership of the MRT facility and then bid it out to private sector operations. This is the only solution,” he said.

Akbayan Representative Tom Villarin said Chavez’s resignation was inevitable “under an administration that plays the blame game over issues of efficiency in governance.”

He called the MRT-3 mess “a collective problem that goes all the way up to Malacañang … a campaign promise to be solved in the short run just like the campaign against illegal drugs.”

Representative Jericho Nograles of the PBA party-list said Chavez’s exit placed the MRT-3 problems squarely on the shoulders of Transportation Arthur Tugade, whom he wished “good luck.”

Aside from technical glitches that saw trains stalling or breaking down on most days, earlier this month, Pasay City resident Angeline Fernando’s right arm was severed when she fainted and fell onto the coupler of an MRT train.

The limb was successfully reattached during surgery. – With a report by Gerard dela Peña, News5