Palace disputes Czech envoy's claims on Abaya, MRT row

Posted at 04/04/2014 7:26 PM

MANILA - Malacanang has taken up the cudgels for Transportation and Communications Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya.

This, after Czech Ambassador Josef Rychtar said in a TV interview that Abaya angrily phoned the ambassador following his exposé of an attempt to extort some US$30 million in exchange for a contract to supply Metro Rail Transit (MRT) trains.

Presidential Spokesperson Edwin Lacierda disputed Rychtar’s claim.

“You know, I asked that particular question to Jun Abaya yesterday, I called him up; and he never called up Ambassador Rychtar. In fact, they texted each other, I have the series of text exchanges between Ambassador Rychtar and Secretary Jun Abaya. At no point did he ever call him up and shout at him.
And I personally know Secretary Jun Abaya and the members of the House of Representatives know what kind of a person Jun Abaya is, he doesn’t shout.

"And I can very well tell you that the mere fact that he claimed that Jun called him up and shouted at him, that’s already not true because there was a series of text exchanges between Secretary Abaya and Ambassador Rychtar...The question yesterday was, did Secretary Jun Abaya shout at Ambassador Rychtar, and Secretary Jun Abaya said, 'No, I never shouted at Ambassador Rychtar.'”

At the same time, Lacierda fended off questions on whether MRT general manager Al Vitangcol should go on leave following Rychtar’s claim that Vitangcol is being shielded from accountability.

“He did already. he already took a leave. He already took a leave and then based on the statement coming from DOTC [Department of Transportation and Communications], nagkaroon ng statement ang DOTC, I just refer you to that. But nag-leave na siya at mayroong administrative investigation. Hinihingi ang participation at cooperation ng ambassador. I don’t know if anything came out of that pero mukhang walang participation from the ambassador. But there is a criminal investigation right now with the NBI [National Bureau of Investigation]. So iyon na lang ang hinihintay ng DOTC.”

Asked if Vitangcol should resign, Lacierda said, “this is part of due process. Everyone is...There is a due process diyan e. So, kung may investigation ngayon na ginagawa, hihintayin natin; at nag-leave of absence na siya noon e.”

Vitangcol already went on leave in January 2013 after news of the alleged extortion attempt broke. He resumed work in the latter part of 2013 amid a DOTC administrative probe and a separate NBI investigation.

Lacierda added, “there is an ongoing investigation with the NBI. So, it is still ongoing with respect to Mr. Vitangcol. So, even DOTC is waiting for the results of the investigation with Mr. Vitangcol --- against Mr. Vitangcol. So let’s just wait for the investigation coming from NBI.”

Lacierda maintained no one is being protected or shielded from any investigation. “Kaya nga may investigation and we just wanted na klaro lahat. Hinihintay natin ang investigation natin sa...Kahit naman sino kung may complaint na finile (file) --- kung may allegations of wrongdoing at may complaint na finile at may investigation --- hihintayin natin ang resulta ng investigation.”

Lacierda added, “I don’t even know if the President knows Mr. Vitangcol personally because that was not...He is an MRT manager. I am certain that the President knows the Cabinet secretary but those lower than the Cabinet secretary, I don’t know if the President knows the entire bureaucracy.

"I am certainly telling you that there’s an investigation that is out there and the President has always said, regardless of what kind of investigation where the evidence leads, we will go there.”

When news of the alleged extortion first broke, Aquino’s sister, Ballsy, was linked to the controversy.

Rychtar has since cleared Ballsy of any involvement.