By Ellson Quismorio
House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez questioned the competence of Metro Rail Transit (MRT)-3 general manager Rodolfo Garcia during a public hearing Wednesday, causing the latter to throw a fit, even offering to resign there and then.
The tension-filled confrontation took place during a joint hearing between the House Committees on Transportation and Public Works and Highways wherein the continuing operational woes of the 19-year-old mass transit system was brought to the fore by Alvarez.
Alvarez said commuters have long been suffering from the MRT-3’s sorry service, including the ordeal of having to stand in long and winding queues, overcrowding in the trains, and the frequent breakdowns of the train line.
In his response, Garcia claimed that they were looking to augment the present number of operational MRT-3 coaches by using the 48 new light rail coaches procured by the previous administration from Dalian Locomotive and Rolling Stocks Co.
However, the coaches worth P3.8 billion have been reported to be incompatible with the MRT-3 —something that the outspoken Alvarez underscored. Garcia, who was visibly irked, insisted the the China-bought coaches can be used by the train line.
“Sigurado ka? (Are you sure?)” the Speaker asked him several times in mocking fashion.
“Then, I will resign kung hindi ako sigurado (if I’m not sure),” Garcia said in a raised voice, after which he stood up and threatened to walk out of the hearing.
Congressmen present at the hearing then advised Garcia to accord proper respect not only to the joint committee but to Alvarez.
Majority Floor Leader Rodolfo Fariñas, Alvarez’s party-mate and right hand man, warned Garcia that they could have him detained for his demeanor.
Fariñas then asked the MRT-3 general manager to apologize, which the latter did by approaching the Speaker. Alvarez accepted the gesture.
Garcia narrowly escaped being cited for contempt by the solons as the motion was withdrawn following his apology.
Earlier during the hearing, Alvarez noted that Garcia, a retired police general, had no real experience in the running and maintenance of a train system.
Alvarez, an ex-Transportation secretary, took issue with Garcia’s claim that his mandate was to make sure the MRT trains were running.
“Hindi mo natanong kung kulang ba [ang coaches?]. Ang haba ng pila, anong gagawin mo? Di magdagdag ka ng train, di ba? Eh kung ganyan yung nasa isip mo, how will you manage MRT-3 na ang laki-laki na ng problema? Ibigay mo yan doon sa marunong,” he said.
(You didn’t ask if the coaches are insufficient? What will you do about the long queues? You should add trains, right? If that’s how you think, how will you manage MRT-3 now that the problem is so big? Give it to someone who knows what to do.)
Alvarez stressed that the real mission of the MRT-3 train managers is to ensure the convenience of the riding public as well as the safety and cleanliness of the mass transport system.
According to the data of the committee, the original specification of the MRT-3 system is designed to serve 300,000 passengers a day with at least 20 trains. But officials admitted that the system is accommodating an average of 350,000 passengers daily with around 10 trains running.
In a chance interview much later, Alvarez stopped short of asking for Garcia’s resignation. “Ayoko nang makialam… ayoko nang manawagan (I don’t want to meddle… I don’t to make any more calls).”
However, the Speaker noted that Garcia seemed bent on stepping down from his post. “Ang sabi naman niya, oo seryoso siya (He said that he’s really serious),” he said.
Toward the end of the hearing, Alvarez asked Garcia if he was serious in his offer to resign.
“Yes, your honor. Medyo pressured na po ako as GM (I feel a bit pressured as GM). I’m contemplating getting out,” Garcia said.
Reports said that the official wasn’t able to finish the hearing since he had to go to the clinic and have his blood pressure checked.