MANILA – Former MRT-3 general manager Al Vitangcol is yet again embroiled in controversy. Once accused by Czech Ambassador Josef Rychtar of trying to extort $30 million from Czech company Inekon Group in exchange for a contract to supply new coaches for the MRT, he is now the subject of accusations of nepotism.
Philippine Star’s Jarius Bondoc reported that the MRT awarded in October 2012 an $11.5 million contract for train maintenance to a company by the name of PH Trams.
Bondoc went on to reveal that Arturo V. Soriano, one of six incorporators-directors of PH Trams, is the uncle of Vitangcol’s wife.
By Philippine law, private individuals with relatives in public service are disallowed from business transactions with the government.
In an interview on ANC’s Headstart, Vitangcol confirmed that Soriano is his uncle-in-law, but that he had divested from PH Trams before the awarding of the contract.
“When I learned that particular thing, I directly told Mr. Soriano that it’s improper. So I told him to divest, which he did and he sold it to a fellow director in PH Trams,” he said.
Vitangcol admits that he did not tell Transportation Secretary Jun Abaya about his relationship with Soriano even if PH Trams was bidding for the maintenance contract; his reason being that it was not his obligation to do so.
“I did not because it’s the duty of the bidder to put that in their disclosure statement,” he said.
Bondoc remains firm of his allegations.
He pointed out that PH Trams was registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission in August 2012, merely two months before the contract was awarded.
He also said that the company has a paid-up capital of only P625,000.
“They contracted PH Trams in October 2012. PH Trams was founded only in August 2012, two months before. Will somebody divest after 2 months? Make him explain that to court,” he said.
Bondoc added that a “Wilson de Vera,” former Liberal Party candidate for mayor of Calasiao, Pangasinan, who was likewise named by the Czech ambassador in the extortion attempt, is also a co-incorporator in PH Trams.
Vitangcol denied knowing de Vera personally, and denied knowledge that de Vera was in the LP. He reasoned that the task of scrutinizing the bidding form falls on the technical group.
“The allegations of the ambassador surfaced only a year after. Had I known there was such an issue, I would have blocked the bidding for PH Trams,” he said.
He also emphasized that although PH Trams is a new company, its partner, COM Builders, has 10 years of experience in railway management.
An inquiry into Bondoc’s allegations has been launched by the transportation department.
Meanwhile, Vitangcol has been relieved from his duties.
Transportation Secretary Jun Abaya said Vitangcol’s relief does not prove that he is guilty, but that an investigation is necessary to find out where the truth lies.
“Hindi yan evident na guilty siya. Kaya naglagay ng OIC para malaman yun hard facts, kung totoo ba o hindi, (It is not evident that he is guilty. We have put an OIC, so as to uncover the hard facts, if this matter is true or not.)” he said.
Vitangcol opted, instead, to resign, so as to avoid further besmirching the DOTC’s reputation.
“This is the second expose hurled against me. It’s really hard for me to go back to the job and be on leave. It demoralizes the people so it’s best for everybody for me to step out,” he said.
“I’m disappointed with the way the government works, but again, time will tell. I’m sure my name will be cleared,” he added.