EXPLAINER: James Cuenco didn’t say, Scrap the BRT. Joy Pesquera said, Stop the BRT, which she said Cuenco in effect also said. Pissed off by the word ‘scrap,’ Mayor Rama called councilors’ move ‘stupid.’

EXPLAINER: James Cuenco didn’t say, Scrap the BRT. Joy Pesquera said, Stop the BRT, which she said Cuenco in effect also said. Pissed off by the word ‘scrap,’ Mayor Rama called councilors’ move ‘stupid.’

[] The mayor on “scrap”: “Please, I mean the word is offensive, very offensive.” It was a news headline, not the story text, that used the word.

[] Ex-mayor Tomas Osmeña, seizing Rama’s perceived meaning of “scrap,” said, “We should scrap Rama, Pesquera, Cuenco and all his other councilors.”

READ again what was said during the January 10, 2024 regular session of the Cebu City Council.

[] DID ANYONE SAY ‘SCRAP’? The word “scrap” -- which Mayor Michael Rama said offended him and the past mayors who had worked to realize the BRT or Bus Rapid Transit project -- was not used by the two councilors who spoke out against it.

Majority Floor Leader Jocelyn Pesquera said she’d “really push for the Council to take a stand and stop the BRT project. “ She said she “fully” supported Councilor James Anthony Cuenco’s move “although he didn’t say categorically” that they stop the project.

In sum: Joy Pesquera said, stop the project. She said Councilor James Anthony Cuenco said in effect, stop the project. On that, she wasn’t corrected by Cuenco who received comments on his speech. Neither councilor used the word “scrap”; no Sanggunian member did.

And the City Council decided not to ask for stopping the Cebu BRT but to discuss the issue further in an executive session on February 7.

The word “scrap” was used by mainstream media, apparently written by an editor who reviewed the story and set it up for printing or posting. The story itself didn’t mention “scrap”; only the headline did.

[] ‘SCRAP’ ALSO MEANS ‘STOP.’ “To scrap,” Cambridge Dictionary says, is “to not continue with a system or plan, to cancel something, to get rid of something that is no longer useful or wanted, often using its parts in new ways.” Merriam-Webster says it means “to convert into scrap, to abandon or get rid of as no longer of enough worth or effectiveness to retain.”

To scrap the BRT project is, necessarily, also to stop it. The word must sound mean, to people

like Mayor Rama who deems the word offensive, because it goes beyond stopping the work: there’s the added sense of being worthless and useless, thus the project is discarded.

The word evokes the image of scrap in a junkyard. That must be why the mayor took the councilors’ comment badly: the goal for mass transport that he and other mayors had labored on to reach for more than a decade and a half would be treated like scrap in a junkyard. Abandoning the BRT would be like “scrapping me and former mayors Tomas Osmeña and Edgardo Labella,” Mayor Rama said.

[] THE MAYOR’S GRIPES. Mayor Rama called the suggestion l to stop the project stupid, “the most stupid thing to do.” Reacting to Cuenco’s January 10 privilege speech and Pesquera’s support to her colleague’s concerns, the mayor aired gripes, which included:

--- The late presentation of their objection: Cuenco and Pesquera didn’t speak out at the beginning. “Where were they before the project was implemented?” They should’ve been honest enough, he said, “because if they were honest enough, they were mentally dishonest.”

Maybe Cuenco saw the flaws of the project when it was already underway and only after he saw the “symptoms” of the ailment of the BRT system that were demonstrated by the BRT projects in Hanoi, Vietnam, Bangkok, Thailand and New Delhi in India. The “red flags” he saw in Cebu’s BRT are also evident, he said, in those cities that adopted the system ahead of us. Concerning, Cuenco said, were delays in planning and implementation, road length and width, poor planning and design, delay in public consultations, and centralized and “unaligned bureaucracy.”

Pesquera said she was against the BRT “from the very start” but didn’t say when and how vigorously she had spoken out against it. She said she had talked with a classmate in New York from Curitiba, Brazil and had visited the BRT in Ahmedabad, India. She considered the cost of Cebu BR, “already P28 billion,” comparing it with SRP’s, “P12 billion,” and CCLEX’s, “P27 billion.” Thus she was convinced, she said, they should stop the BRT.

--- The agencies to which they address their concern: the councilors, Mayor Rama said, should raise their opposition to the Department of Transportation, World Bank and other agencies concerned.

Maybe that’s what the councilors are doing: Cuenco’s Sanggunian speech and discussion on the speech, to be followed by the executive session next month with DOTr (Department of Transportation), Neda (National Economic and Development Authority), and other agencies involved in the Cebu BRT.

[] CUENCO OFFERED OPTIONS. Councilor Cuenco, while criticizing the BRT, provided options. It’s not like he just cited project flaws and didn’t suggest alternatives or additional measures, for which he would’ve deserved the mayor’s dismissive “put up or shut up” remark. Diplomatically, Cuenco presented the Cebu BRT shortcomings as defects it shared with other cities that adopted the system.

Cuenco suggested “redirecting efforts and resources” to find “more viable solutions” to the city’s long-running traffic problem, such as completing the Guadalupe-Lahug bypass road and pursuing the Naga City-Danao City expressway by funding them and hurdling road-right-of-way obstacles. He also proposed that they “explore” the coastal monorail system from Talisay barangays to South Road Properties to Mandaue to the North Reclamation Area all the way to Mactan-Cebu International Airport. He urged that a study be made on a Cebu MRT subway system.

[] QUESTIONS ON DECIDING TO STOP BRT must include whether it can be done and how and, if it is OK to all the parties involved in the project, what would happen next. Mayor Rama mentioned “implications” of canceling the project.

That must include the cost of abandoning it totally or just correcting its defects or completing it as planned and bearing its problems. When some experts predicted the Cebu BRT would fail, what would be the collateral damage, that is, on top of its construction cost?

Former city administrator Nigel Paul Villarete told me last January 13 that scrapping the BRT would have “direct woeful implications” on relations between the Philippines and France. The French government, Villarete recalled, extended its ODA or Official Development Assistance for the Cebu BRT. “A foreign government offers support and 12 years after we scrap it.”

The mayor has been saying he’d rather correct defects and not rescind big-ticket projects: The Carbon market modernization was an example of curing, not killing. Rama expectedly would latch on to the BRT project but might also wish to correct the feared defects. He reportedly wants a governing body for Cebu BRT so that some decisions can be made here instead of in Manila. That may address a problem aired early on and Cuenco also raised: when the management group that was to coordinate the work was not formed or didn’t function.

[] SANGGUNIAN’S EXECUTIVE SESSION on February 7 will continue discussion of the city’s dilemma: what to do with the Cebu BRT project that some transportation experts foresee as a failure and struggling similar BRT projects in other Asian cities that tend to demonstrate that it will be.

The City Council will look further at the “red flags” that Cuenco and Pesquera raised last January 10. Councilors can ask representatives from national agencies to find out what’s up and what can be done.


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