Monday July 16, 2018

Seares: Bry. heads not opposing BRT. Not yet

REACTING to the news that 65 barangays have “reservations” about the multi-billion-peso Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) project, Cebu City Mayor Tomas Osmeña used former mayor Mike Rama’s line: the opposers are “destroyers” while he Tomas is a “builder.”

Rama, early in his 2013 term when the City Council was formidably BOPK-controlled, branded the BOPK councilors “babagero” or obstructionists. Mike moved as the BOPKs barred his way. Same track of thought: the incumbent seeing dissent as obstacle.

Strange though that Tomas would complain about that when he already has almost complete dominance of the City Council. The political scale has since swung in his favor. How can Team Rama demolish anything now? Not even a bit of the anti-Team Rama blitz, started by Tomas's wife Margot who acted as mayor before he assumed office (during Mike’s terminal suspension). The scorched-earth wrecking has devastated the opposition terrain.

Noise, optics

All that Team Rama, even with the new name Barug Rama, could do is to produce noise and optics that try to tell city voters they’re still alive, if not robustly standing.

Besides, on the BRT issue, the manifesto signed Monday (June 3) by 45 barangay captains (a number they expect to swell by 20 more) doesn’t oppose the project. It only expresses some doubts and “asks for more discussion.”

That seems to have been confirmed by Mike when he said Tuesday (June 4) that he supports the BRT project, as he did when he was still mayor but, here’s the qualifier, it needs “refinement, reconfiguration and redesigning.”

Like the barangay captains, Mike is also not for cancellation, not yet anyway. But then Mike may just be the nominal head now.

Red flag

What probably Tomas saw as red flag was the ABC manifesto, issued two days after (a) Michael Dino, presidential asst. for the Visayas, announced Saturday (July 1) at a transport stakeholders forum that he’d lobby to cancel the BRT project and (b) a “transport & engineering expert,” Rene Santiago spoke at the same forum, arguing that BRT would be a “total disaster” for Cebu.

Coincidence? Some strings were obviously pulled and maybe not by Mike.

OK, the barangay captains haven’t yet formalized their opposition but apparently it’s looming. What should be Tomas’s response? Defend the BRT project in the same way it was assailed. Show that it’s more feasible and cost-efficient and would work better alone or alongside the competing light rail transit (LRT).

Better decision

The demand for more time to clarify things and remove doubts about the BRT may not be a “tear-down-and-destroy” mission. A request, which may result in a wiser decision.

Which is how things must be. The BRT project is too huge and expensive for one mayor to decide alone. While funding had reportedly been allocated already, the extra budget for land purchase and concerns about limited space and lost jobs of PUJ drivers should be addressed.

Further study may include the question: How is the P16 billion tab going to be paid? If we’re going into a similar rat trap that snagged and burdened the city for several years on the SRP loan debt, people should be told about it and how it will affect public services.

The manifesto may yet serve a useful purpose, other than to annoy the mayor.