“Scrapping the Cebu Bus Rapid Transit (CBRT) is the most stupid thing to do.”
This is what Cebu City Mayor Michael Rama had to say regarding Cebu City Councilor Jocelyn Pesquera’s call to stop the implementation of the CBRT project.
On the Sugboanon Channel program “Igna’ng Mayor” on Thursday, Jan. 11, 2024, Rama said the statements by Pesquera, the majority floor leader, and Councilor James Anthony Cuenco, chairman of the committee on transportation, were “offensive,” which is why he finds it stupid, especially since they have not suggested a solution to the city’s traffic situation if the project is halted.
In fact, during the City Council’s regular session on Wednesday, Jan. 10 when he raised his objections to the CBRT project, Cuenco proposed exploring projects like the Guadalupe to Lahug bypass road and considering alternatives like a coastal monorail system and a Cebu MRT (mass rapid transit) subway system.
Rama said approving the project was not an easy task. Nor was it easy for former mayor Tomas Osmeña to have it expanded in terms of appropriation.
“We have to be very extra careful. Liman ka, imo i-scrap? Kinsa na lang magpa-utang nato kon mao ning kalakiha? Giaprobahan, gipirmahan, gipun-an pa, unya human ipa-scrap? That’s why I say very stupid,” Rama said.
(Imagine that, you will just scrap it? Who will ever lend to us now if we do that? It was approved, signed, added to, and then it will be scrapped?)
Rama said there could be modifications, but scrapping the project should not be an option.
He said the move of Pesquera and Cuenco is not fair to the Department of Transportation (DOTr), World Bank and the National Government.
“Not fair to Mayor Mike Rama, but I don’t know with (former) mayor Tommy Osmeña, and I cannot tell also for late mayor Edgardo Labella,” Rama said.
On Wednesday, Cuenco voiced his concerns about the CBRT project during a privilege speech, emphasizing the need for more thoughtful actions to address the city’s traffic situation.
Cuenco pointed out that other countries that implemented the BRT had experienced failures using the same approach. He mentioned Hanoi, whose BRT system, he said, had been installed on narrow roads, operated only a few kilometers, and had its exclusive BRT lane frequently encroached on by private vehicles, which remained the popular choice.
For the CBRT, Cuenco cited its poor planning and design (road length and width), as well as delayed completion that has increased the project’s cost.
Pesquera, implying that Cuenco might be indirectly suggesting stopping the CBRT, pushed for the City Council to take a stand and stop the CBRT’s implementation.
Since February 2023, Hunan Road and Bridge Construction Group Co. Ltd. has been working on Package 1 of the CBRT, which is expected to become operational in the first quarter of this year. Package 1 spans 2.38 kilometers with four bus stations and 1.15 kilometers of pedestrian improvements from the Cebu South Bus Terminal on N. Bacalso Ave. to the front of the Capitol building on Osmeña Blvd.
Rama said it would be a shame if any mistakes were found in the project, but stopping it altogether would be more regrettable.
The mayor suggested establishing a governing board for the CBRT similar to what happened with the City’s reclamation project, the South Road Properties (SRP), to address issues related to the project.
Rama also proposed speaking with high-ranking officials from the Department of Transportation (DOTr), World Bank and other agencies involved in the CBRT project.
“It is not just that you open your mouth and not be mindful that this whole project is a national-managed project, and that this whole project is also funded by the World Bank and France,” Rama said.
On Wednesday, City Councilor Nestor Archival Sr. raised a corollary motion, inviting representatives of the National Economic and Development Authority (Neda), World Bank and DOTr to an executive session on Feb. 7 to update the City Council on the final BRT route, pending approval by Neda, the total amount currently deposited in the Philippine bank for the project, and the accrued interest cost of the ongoing project.
Rama noted that he approved the project, and former mayor Osmeña also supported it, to augment the City’s budget allocated for the project. He said this was the only project they did not quarrel about.
Rama said when the CBRT project was introduced, consultations were made with all stakeholders.
Foreign loans amounting to US$198 million were taken out from the Agence Francaise de Développement (AFD) and the World Bank for the construction of the Cebu BRT project. The loans took effect in December 2014. The loans closed in 2021 before the BRT construction began, so the DOTr sought
an extension. The loan from the French government, through the AFD, was extended until March 2023, while the World Bank loan was extended to June 2023.
Last October, the validity of the loans was adjusted to September 2027 after the Neda board approved the increase in the cost of the CBRT to P28.78 billion from P16.3 billion, following the change in the design that will now extend the length of the CBRT’s dedicated lane from the original 13.8 kilometers to 17 kilometers.
The project already incurred P29.48 million in cumulative commitment fees from 2015 to 2019. Commitment fees are charges levied on undisbursed balances—accrued after a loan becomes effective. (with CTL)