FORMER TRANSPORTATION secretary Joseph Emilio A. Abaya was charged anew before the Office of the Ombudsman in connection with the P3.8-billion maintenance contract between the Metro Rail Transit Line 3 (MRT-3) and the Joint Venture of Busan.

Mr. Abaya, together with his colleagues in the former Department of Transportation and Communications and the private partners of the MRT contract, were similarly charged with graft last month by the agency they used to lead, since renamed the Department of Transportation (DoTr). Their accusers this time are secretary-general Renato M. Reyes, Jr. of the leftist group Bayan, Bayan Muna chairperson Neri J. Colmenares, Train Riders Network (TREN) members Angelo Suarez, Maria Donna Miranda and James Relativo, and AGHAM secretary general Maria Finesa Cosico.

Also on Monday, Malacañang defended Mr. Abaya’s successor, Transportation Secretary Arthur P. Tugade, against calls for his resignation by at least two legislators, saying Mr. Tugade’s problems, particularly with the MRT, were “inherited” from the previous administration. Mr. Tugade has been DoTr secretary for more than a year now.

Malacañang on Monday affirmed that Transportation Secretary Arthur P. Tugade still enjoys President Rodrigo R. Duterte’s trust and confidence amid calls of resignation following the continuous problems besetting the MRT-3 system.

“Tingin ko po hindi pa po dumarating ’yung panahon na kinakailangan na tanggalin si Secretary Tugade. (The way I see it, it’s not yet time to replace Secretary Tugade.) He enjoys the full trust and confidence of the President,” Presidential Spokesperson Harry L. Roque, Jr., said in a press briefing.

“The President has said he will back up Secretary Tugade in whatever he may need to effect immediate reform of the MRT,” he added.

Last Thursday, Nov. 16, an MRT car was detached from its northbound train between Ayala and Buendia Stations. It was at least the second in a series of MRT mishaps only last week.

DoTr and the MRT-3 management said the incident may have been a case of sabotage.

Mr. Duterte tended to believe likewise, Mr. Roque said, adding: “Gumagawa po ng hakbang ang ating Presidente para maibsan ang pagdurusa ng ating mga mananakay diyan. Sinimulan na po ’yan sa pagsibak dun sa Busan bilang contractor ng MRT.” (The President is taking steps to ease the suffering of our commuters. And we’ve started by terminating Busan as contractor of MRT [early this month]).

“Gayunpaman (Nevertheless), with the President assuming that he will be responsible for the MRT, let us give the President the opportunity to rectify the many problems that his administration inherited from the past dispensation,” Mr. Roque said.

“But we accept the challenge. We are moving forward and we promise better MRT to our riding public. We will show the same political will that the President has shown in his fight against illegal drugs, in his fight against corruption, in bringing this vital service of transportation to the people as well,” he added.

For his part, Justice Secretary Vitaliano N. Aguirre II on Monday cited a Department Order (DO) on the MRT-3 probe.

“Tuloy yung angle ng sabotage for the NBI (National Bureau of Investigation) kasi mukhang meron basehan, kasi sinasabi doon na mahirap mangyari yung makakalas yung dalawang coach, kasi makikita naman natin na kahit naderail ang tren kahit tumumba na ’yan, magkakabit pa rin eh,” he said. (We’re pursuing this angle of sabotage for the NBI because it seems to have basis, because it’s not possible that the two cars can be decoupled, even if one of them is derailed, they’ll still be attached.)

“Kaya kung talagang walang human intervention, it’s really very hard mangyari ’yun at of course pwedeng mangyari but definitely parang ’yung NBI nakikita na yung angle ng sabotage ay may basehan,” Mr. Aguirre added. (If there’s really no human intevention, it’s really very hard for that to happen and of course it can happen but definitely it seems the NBI now sees the sabotage angle as having basis.)

However, NBI Director Dante A. Gierran told reporters for his part: “We have yet to receive the Department Order (DO) from the Secretary of Justice, pero pwede naman kami pumasok eh (but we can step into this case). As a matter of fact yung tauhan natin sa Investigative ay nagsimula nang magkalap ng impormasyon (our people at Investigative have started to collect information).” — Rosemarie A. Zamora, Andrea Louise E. San Juan and Minde Nyl R. dela Cruz