MORE than a month ago, on March 31, 2023, Cebu City Mayor Michael Rama was reported to have decided to look into the city’s new traffic light system, following the disclosure of the Traffic Management Coordination Committee (TMCC) board that it discovered a number of malfunctioning traffic lights, since 2022, despite its newness and modernity.

Severely damaging to the image of the P500 million project was the March 28 TMCC board resolution, which found the old SCATS (Sydney Coordinated Adaptive Traffic System) to be quicker and with “real-time adaptive capability to the traffic situation compared to the new system.” The new system’s AI or artificial intelligence capability needs people for it to be useful to the traffic situation. The warning on time left before change of the light “does not help much, especially during peak hours,” said the board.

Contractor and supplier, partners in a joint venture -- Cylix Technologies Inc. and Triune Electronic Systems Inc. -- didn’t publicly respond to the findings about their work through TMCC board chairman Rico Rey Francis Holganza. Holganza’s comment last February 8 and the March 29 TMCC resolution must have prompted Mayor Rama’s announcement of an inquiry. But the companies’ representative, one Timothy Ong, appeared before the City Council last April 26 and gave the JV duo’s side.

The SP ession was executive, meaning closed to the public and not live-streamed or broadcast after the event. But sources knowledgeable about what happened yielded these bits of information:

[1] 90% COMPLETE. The supplier-contractor claimed that the project -- “100% complete for phase 1 and 90% complete for phase 2” -- was “deemed accepted” by the city’s Department of Engineering and Public Works (DEPW) but not by the CCTO, the transportation office, whose policies are dictated by TMCC.

To Vice Mayor and Sanggunian Presiding Officer Raymond Alvin Garcia, DEPW and CCTO were tossing to each other (“nagpasapasa mura’g basketball”) the job of accepting the project. The end-user, CCTO, Minority Floor Leader Nestor Archival Sr. said, must be the one to accept the project upon completion.

[2] COST OF THE PROJECT is roughly P232 million for first phase and P248 million for second phase or a total of P470 million (or more precisely, P487.9 million). The City Council budgeted P500 million. It was due for completion in 2022 but the contractor cited “suspension orders and suspension orders” as causes for the delay. Technically, the contractor said they were not in delay.

As to the amount already paid, not yet 50 percent, according to one high City Hall official.

[3] PADLOCKED COMMAND CENTER. The command center has not been operating. As of April 26, 2023, it was padlocked, no one was manning it. If an accident would happen, “no one would entertain the police.” The police call us for help, the contractor said, in replaying the recorded video as no one operates the recorders at the command center. Councilor Archival said councilors are asking why if there’s no one in there, the “Stop” signal keeps running. Ong said a lot of “mitigation” of the traffic situation can be done “with a person manning there.”

Another possible source of friction if the building of the command center on Block 27, which is one of the lots covered by the Capitol-Cebu City land swap, instead of being on a lot specified in the contract, at Natalio Bacalso Ave.

[4] TERM OF REFERENCE. On the complaint that the new system does not automatically reduce time for a signal, based on data on traffic volume gathered by sensors, Ong said they delivered the system prescribed in the TOR (terms of reference) and the contract. The TTMC is asking for what’s not required under the TOR and the contract, Ong said. In effect, the contractor is telling the City: we delivered the tools; it is up to you how to use them to the fullest. “If the cameras are not used to their full potential, that’s why maybe we’re not realizing their full potential.”

Who prepared the apparently faulty TOR? No one would say, even in an executive session, the witnesses fearing they’d be “Marites-like,” or, more plausibly, they didn’t have the document for support.

[5] WHY TMCC’S CAUTION. The board that lays down the policy for the CTO fears that people who’d expect much from the new traffic system -- given its huge cost and the billing that it got as the most advanced in the world -- would blame them for the results. When asked by Counclor Mary Ann de los Santos if they could accept the new system, Atty. Holganiza, TMCC chief, reportedly answered: “As presented and what we have seen on our streets, ‘mura’g lisud dawaton, Maam.’”

[6] CASTILLO, ROSELL FINDINGS. Ordered by Mayor Mike to get the facts on the modern traffic system for Cebu City, City Legal Officer Jerone Castillo and City Administrator Collin Rosell indicated they have enough data for the mayor to take the next move.

But they won’t tell what it is, not until the mayor will have seen their report first. Castillo though said that comparing the city’s contract with those of other local governments, “the word is alarming.”

Majority Floor Leader Jocelyn Pesquera indicated that the mayor-ordered inquiry must have covered the cost of intersections. Comparing costs, P480 million will be spent for Cebu City’s 45 intersections while P1 billion was spent for MMDA’s or Metro Manila Development Authority’s 271 intersections. “In the eyes of everyone and in the ears of everyone here, it’s clear that there is corruption...we have to unveil this,” Councilor de los Santos reportedly said.

[7] ARCHIVAL’S POSITION, WHAT MAYOR MIKE WILL DO. Councilor Archival, minority chief, told me Tuesday, May 9, 2023, he’d prefer to wait for the city attorney’s findings of its investigation. Archival said he’d file a resolution requesting CTO, DEPW and the traffic board to consider TMCC’s resolution of March 26 before releasing the billings. The city government agencies involved should have a “focused” meeting and come up with a “unified stand.”

Councilor Archival said the city’s digital traffic system should harmonize with the BRT traffic system -- “or our money paid to the contractor would be wasted.” A disturbing “by-the-way” comment on the councilor said the City didn’t have to spend P500 million for a digital traffic system because the BRT project already provides for the amount.

C.A. Rosell told the City Council the incident “should not have happened.” He cited the roles in assessing the contract: from the requisitioning party to the City Council to the bidding committee. The City and its agencies know and “should have known better.”

Giving a clear picture of what Mayor Rama and his office will do, Rosell said the mayor supports the project, especially that it’s required for a Singapore-like city and “we’re already in the third quarter,” a reference to the earlier comparison made by VM Garcia and Councilor Dondon Hontiveros to a basketball game. The mayor and the mayor’s office, C.A. Rosell said, “will correct what needs to be corrected and cure what needs to be cured.” With the promise of “utmost observance of transparency and accountability.”