Get real
Philippine Daily Inquirer, 7 April 2014


The operation of the MRT is on the hot seat, and so is its boss, Al S. Vitangcol. He guested on my TV show, which was taped two days ago (I don’t know when it will be aired). I had never seen him before, or at least don’t remember having met him before. But one thing is sure: I was very impressed with him, with his answers, and with the way he runs the MRT. I may be sticking my neck out, but if this man is corrupt, I am blind, deaf and dumb.

This is not to say that everything is hunky-dory in the Department of Transportation and Communications. Right now, for example, the awarding of the Cebu airport project to the lowest bidder has been delayed by almost two months, while the second lowest bidder is trying to destroy the reputation of the lowest bidder, whom it had asked to be its bidding partner in the first place. When the DOTC has second thoughts about a straightforward, no-nonsense procedure, one starts to wonder.

Why is the Czech ambassador so much involved? Simple. The MRT coaches we have been using from the beginning are Czech. (And I must say they certainly have done a good job, so why change horses in midstream? Another point to ponder.)

But Ambassador Josef Rychtar’s perception that the MRT manager is the big boss (makes the procurement decisions) may be sadly misinformed. It is the DOTC that has the Bids and Awards Committee, not the MRT. Additionally, as far as I can make out, Vitangcol’s connection with that $30-million extortion try (which went down to $2.5 million the same night) is based on Rychtar’s conjecture that Wilson de Vera, who apparently made the extortion try, called up Vitangcol to get his approval for the reduction. Rychtar’s conjecture, as I said, was based on a misperception. And for this, Vitangcol is being hung out to dry in the public’s mind.

Vitangcol’s side: He never had dinner with Rychtar; he first met De Vera when the Czech company Inekon brought De Vera to his office.

The ambassador also made a comment that Vitangcol “is covered… protected” because “he has a very firm position. Nothing can move his chair….” Well, after talking to Vitangcol, I am glad that he has a firm position, and that he cannot be moved. In fact, I think Vitangcol’s

appointment may be one of P-Noy’s best decisions yet.

What are Vitangcol’s qualifications? A civil engineer (University of the Philippines) with a master’s degree in computer science (De La Salle University), and a lawyer to boot, he joined the government as director for policy formulation at the PPP Center before he was appointed MRT head in 2012. Who is his  padron?  He claims not to have any (and the way he is being made out to be the scapegoat, I tend to believe him), having been recommended for the MRT position by a UP engineering professor. With those qualifications, he should have been appointed to the Commission on Elections, which is another reason why I tend to believe he has no  padron, or backer. He was a Namfrel (National Citizens’ Movement for Free Elections) volunteer, a member of the Philippine Computer Society, a pretty good lecturer, and an author of three books.

Vitangcol has done wonders for the MRT since he joined it, bringing in only one person (his executive assistant) with him. He has since computerized everything that could be computerized (including payroll, which was manually done until he came along), tightened procedures and processes, and put in a passenger information system and a station monitoring system. He knows at any point the efficiency level his trains perform (the aim is to make 272 loops, one loop being North Avenue to Taft and back) in a day, and the lowest they have done is 93 percent. Monitoring the stations allow for decisions to be made so that a train can skip other stations to go to the station most in need.He knows exactly how many passengers ride a day (560,000), or when 350,000 passengers are the “crush load”—which of course means that riding can be hell for the passengers.

And he goes on the trains every week and inspects the stations, which is I think why the stations are squeaky clean and the cars practically spotless. There are station identifications, which he also introduced. And he has a “model station” of the month, with a P10,000 prize for the employees, which provides them with an incentive, just as the recognition does.

When he came in, ridership was in the 300,000s. At a 5-percent-a-year increase, it doesn’t explain why ridership is in the 500,000s. Why the spike? Tight controls over ticketing. So the reports now are more accurate. Which means somebody was making a lot of money before Vitangcol came in.

The MRT is currently geared for 20 three-car trains an hour. The most it can tackle, due to physical and safety constraints, is 24 four-car trains an hour. Which is what the MRT is gearing up for.

Is Vitangcol responsible for the problems that the riding public now has to go through, packed like sardines as they are? Of course not. As he said, the ones who put up the MRT did not plan for the future.

And I agree with him. When the MRT was first planned, the alternatives were to put it on Edsa or C-5. C-5 would have been able to take additional passengers better, but Edsa won out—for reasons we will not go into here, but are, I think, obvious.

Question: Why are there such long passenger ticket lines? Answer: Because the train platforms are already packed, so passengers cannot be allowed on the platforms.

Question: Why weren’t those additional cars purchased earlier? That’s not Vitangcol’s fault either; he wasn’t on board until 2012, so give him a break. We’re not going to get any better man than Vitangcol.