WHAT WE KNOW SO FAR about the confusion over delay in the demolition of two skywalks on Osmeña Boulevard, Cebu City for the ongoing Cebu Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) project:

[] The reasons the Cebu City Council refused to authorize the City to assume ownership of the two skywalks -- one fronting Metrobank Fuente; the other near Cebu Normal University and Abellana National School -- and order their demolition. Earlier, it passed a resolution “interposing no objection” to their removal.

[] The reasons City Administrator Collin Rosell, “by authority of the mayor,” declared in a letter to the BRT Project Unit manager that the City thereby assumed possession and custody of the sidewalks and asked that, after demolition, dismantled parts be turned over for the City to use as footbridges.

[] An MOU (memorandum of understanding) of July 30, 2014 among DPWH (Department of Public Works and Highways), Cebu City Government (CCG) and DOTr (Department of Transportation, then named DOTC or Department of Transportation and Communications), with two DOTr-created offices -- the NPMO (National Program Management Office) and NSC (National Steering Committee) to implement the agreements and tackle problems.

[] Application to demolish the skywalks, which has not yet been filed, or acted upon, by the City’’s OBO (Office of the Building Official) because of obviously lacking requirements.

[RELATED: BRT builders want Cebu City Government to assume ownership of skywalks, News+One, August 31, 2023; There should be no problem over skywalks, News+One, September 1, 2023]

CAUSES OF THE MESS. Nigel Paul Villarete, former Cebu City administrator, had earlier said the MOU among CCG, DOTr and DPWH would cover the problem of sidewalks. The management office (NPMO) and the steering committee (NSC) would take care of it, he said.

Saturday, September 2, Villarete wondered if NSC had already convened and when they had their last meeting. “If not, then we are in for a lot of mess,” he told me, “because many of the necessary government agreements require national-level decisions.” Like the case of the two skyways on Osmeña Boulevard, a national road. “It looks indeed,” he said, the 2014 agreements haven’t been implemented yet.

THE WAY OUT. Councilor Rey Gealon, chairman of the City Council committee on laws, told me also Saturday, he hoped the BRT project manager could convince Commission on Audit (COA) that the project “proceed solely on the basis of the claim of ownership” declared by the city administrator on behalf of the mayor.

Villarete, in a separate interview on the same day, said COA approval should be requested by the owner. And the only agency that “can demolish the skywalks is DPWH, which appropriated the funds for their construction.”

Like Gealon, Villarete saw the COA approval as essential. Villarete said flyovers are booked under DPWH schedule of properties. “The DPWH auditor may issue (the approval), not the City’s (auditor).” DPWH is no stranger to this, Villarete said, as it has properties all over the country. On national-level arrangements, he said, lapses and omissions can be “easily rectified” in a month.

WHY CITY COUNCIL SAID ‘NO.’ Councilor Gealon asked the City Council in its August 30 session if (a) it could assume ownership of the sidewalks without proof and (b) could order the demolition even if it’s not legally the owner. Both rhetorical questions, after a stirring argument against, the answers were obviously No.

Majority Floor Leader Jocelyn Pesquera -- in a comment Saturday on a News+One article of the day before, September 1 -- said about the skywalks: The City didn’t construct it, didn’t fund it and DPWH didn’t secure City Council authorization or an OBO permit before building it, on top of its being on a national road. In sum, the City is not the owner. She didn’t mention that in 2015 the City followed up DPWH on its earlier request for the turnover of the skywalks but nothing happened, which may prove further that City didn’t own them.

Villarete told me that “asking for City Council approval won’t work unless DPWH agrees because DPWH is the ‘owner’ of the sidewalks and the property is listed in its books.”

Councilor Jerry Guardo, chairman of the committee on infrastructures, replying to my question, said the question of ownership became a problem when DPWH’s Cebu City District Engineering Office (CCDEO), answering the BRT project manager’s request for certification, certified only that it didn’t have a record of ownership. Maybe it actually built the skywalks but the work was not recorded. The DPWH regional office though, just like the City Council, declared in writing they don’t oppose the demolition.

NOT (FULL) OWNERSHIP, SAYS ROSELL. City Administrator Rosell in his August 22, 2023 letter to Engr. Norvin Imbong, BRT project manager, in effect admitted that the City is not the owner but can claim ownership -- or most of its attributes -- because “for three decades (the skywalks) have been existing without any claimant/owner on record.” Besides -- and here’s the motive or purpose of the city administrator/mayor -- it will “expedite the execution of the BRT.”

Atty. Rosell, though, in a note to me Saturday, clarified that what he declared was “for custody and possession,” not ownership,” and “for purposes of removing/demolishing the same.”

Would that meet the requirement of BRT project manager Imbong who wanted the City to “assume ownership”? Here’s the thing: Distinction between ownership and less than ownership may have been lost to many people, including members of the City Council. Neither Gealon nor Pesquera has called out regarding the precise claim for the skywalks made by the city administrator for the City. Gealon referred to it as “a claim of ownership.” (See item “The way out,” above.)

How far is “possession and custody with right to remove/demolish” from full ownership? And if what Rosell claimed was only for possession and custody, how would it fare to COA, which may then see the City as less than an owner? Fact of ownership (full, obviously) seems to be the solution, required by the BRT project unit and Commission on Audit and most likely the OBO.

For OBO, Gealon said the resolution of the City Council is not needed. A list of requirements in the internet site enumerates mostly the things to do for the demolition. Guardo said OBO “basically” requires, “to determine ownership,” tax declaration, lot plan, vicinity map, building plan, among others.

CITY COUNCIL’S MOTIVE. Councilor Gealon cited at the Sanggunian session the “rule of law,” which he said is Mayor Michael Rama’s guiding principle. Gealon told me last August 31 the Sanggunian “cannot be used to justify what we perceive to be a legally wrong claim of ownership.” And this: Gealon feared sanctions similar to the 60-day suspension of Mayor Rama in January 2016 caused by the removal of a Bry. Labangon center island and street lamps. Seen in Gealon’s light, the City Council’s refusal was consistent with the mayor’s principle and interest.

The commitment to follow the law and the worry over another sanction against the mayor and even the Sanggunian members themselves may have proved to be stronger than the councilors’ own desire to speed up the much-delayed BRT project.

Did the City Council “want to contradict the action of the city administrator,” which Councilor Pesquera denied? The News+One reports didn’t say or imply that. Still, this may help push the point: Public impression of a contradiction of opinions and moves, whether the Sanggunian intended it or not, was the result of different responses from City Hall to a problem. The mayor, through Atty. Rosell, appeared to heed the BRT project manager’s request. The City Council clearly did not, with a council member explaining for the Sangguian that not objecting to the demolition was all it could legally do.