Seares: Why Rama's P1.328B flood-control project hasn't started despite 'excessive' cash advance. Contractor A.M. Oreta resets face-off with City Council, in effect blames City Government for construction delay.

Photos from SunStar and Cebu City PIO
Photos from SunStar and Cebu City PIO

"...With this kind of attitude that this contractor has manifested, there is no doubt that these flood-control projects will be going down the drain..." -- From COA report

WHY CONTRACTOR FAULTS THE CITY. Last Wednesday, August 16, 2023, A.M. Oreta, the contractor that won the Rama administration's major flood-control project, costing P1.328 billion, didn't appear to tell its side of the story to the Cebu City Council in an executive session.

Two days earlier, in a letter dated August 14, Melvin B. Caidet, "authorized representative" of the contractor, asked for a "rescheduling of the discussion to a later date."

Councilor Jerry Guardo, chairman of the Sanggunian committee on infrastructure, told me Thursday, August 17, the new schedule is September 6, also a Wednesday.

In citing the reason though, A.M. Oreta virtually blamed the City Government for the delay. Caidet said there are "several pending issues and matters still to be addressed by the City to enable us to complete our tasks" under the contract. The City, it alleged, has not given them "certain information," which "has hindered" their "progress." Also, an exchange of "several communications" between the City and A.M. Oreta gave rise to "further issues that we are trying to resolve."

In effect, A.M. Oreta, through Caidet, told the City Council, we won't talk with you until the City Government gives us the information we need to do our work.

WHO WERE INVITED. The City Council resolution of July 26 "invited" Caidet, representing A.M. Oreta, three engineers of the city's Department of Engineering and Public Works (DEPW), Atty. Jerone Castillo, city attorney and special projects assistant to the mayor, representatives of the treasurer and the budget officer, and former city administrator Atty. Floro Casas Jr.

The same persons are presumably the resource persons in the September 6 executive session.

FROM 'LEAVING' TO 'LOSING'? The P1.328 billion flood-control works may be considered the centerpiece and primary thrust of Mayor Mike Rama's "Gubat sa Baha" program, which was expected to "gain momentum" since it was given the biggest slice of the P50 billion 2023 annual budget. Rama called the war on floods "a mission to fulfill, LAL -- Leaving a Legacy."

Given the pace of the project, "Leaving a Legacy" could turn to "Losing a Legacy," retaining only the acronym.

'PROJECT DESIGN AND BUILD SCHEME for a Flood-Control System' is the description of the project. A.M. Oreta is bound under the contract to construct along Cabreros St. in Bry. Mambaling, Natalio Bacalso Ave., V.H. Garces St., A. Gabuya St., Leon Kilat St., and Escario St.

'ZERO RESULT. EXCESSIVE ADVANCE.' The Sanggunian resolution calling for the aborted August 16 executive session quoted from Councilor Jerry L. Guardo's privilege speech of July 26, which quoted from the COA report on the status of the flood-control projects, thus: "The project had zero result as of December 30, 2022." The 576 calendar days provided in the contract had long expired but there must have been authorized suspensions.

Earlier, news about the project said A.M. Oreta "only managed to complete the design" of the project but was not able "to transition to actual construction phase." In plain language, it had not started building. But Councilor Guardo said that until that day when he spoke (July 26), no detailed design had been submitted by A.M. Oreta "in spite of the cash advances it made."

The non-implementation of the project and the "excessive" cash advance (P199.323 million) prompted banner news headlines last July when COA released its audit report of Cebu City.

COA also pounced on "various deficiencies" that "riddled the transaction," including alleged absence of authority from the City Council to enter into a contract and lack of concurrence from Surety for time suspensions.

Former city administrator Casas earlier explained to News+One that he, signing for then mayor Edgardo Labella, didn't need any more authority to sign from the Sanggunian as the amount was covered by a lump-sum appropriation. The courts, if the case is litigated, will decide which is right: the COA position or Casas Jr.'s.

COA'S TAKE ON CONTRACTOR'S 'ATTITUDE.' Councilor Guardo in his speech, which the Sanggunian resolution also adopted, said DEPW wrote to A.M. Oreta three times, requiring it to submit the pre-engineering studies, namely: on June 2, 2022, then on February 23, 2023, both of which were not answered, and a third letter of May 18, 2023. The last letter finally drew a reply but not the pre-engineering studies DEPW has been asking from the contractor, Guardo told his colleagues.

Did COA come up with the observation about the contractor's "attitude" from Oreta's response to the DEPW requests? That was not made clear in the privilege speech.

ORETA NEEDS TO TELL the councilors in their new scheduled meeting the "issues and matters" its representative Melvin Caidet said the City had failed "to address" and the "certain information" Caidet said the City had not given the contractor. While they are at it, they may as well know who allowed the "excessive" cash advance and why.

That way, the City Council would know what's causing the setback on a prime offensive in the mayor's war on floods and, removing the causes of delay, finally get the project moving.

As Guardo pointed out, "global climate change is increasing its intensity and frequency of typhoons ... putting our constituents at severe risk." No need to mention the aspiration of the mayor for a "Singapore-like" Cebu City and the councilor did not.


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