Seares: A way out and not to mess with Guv Gwen on Cebu BRT is to skip Osmeña Boulevard and Capitol. Kons James Cuenco leads City Council proposal to modify project. 

Councilor James Anthony Cuenco.
Councilor James Anthony Cuenco.Cebu City Hall PIO photo

[] Cebu City Council formalizes position on long-delayed, problem-infested project

[] City’s legislature (1) asks Neda and Deptartment of Transportation to suspend for six months civil works on Cebu BRT’s Packages 2, 3, 4 after Package 1 is completed; and (2) urges Mayor Rama to convene a technical group to study option of a trial run for a Bulacao to Ayala route while Packages 2, 3, 4 are on hold.

THE sense of the Cebu City Council, after listening to two transportation experts in an executive session last April 3, 2024, is to persuade the board of the National Economic Development Authority (Neda) and Department of Transportation (DOTr) to suspend three-fourth of the work on the Cebu Bus Rapid Transit (CBRT) while the City conducts a trial run of the Bulacao-Ayala route under the first phase of the project.

The city Sanggunian formalized its action on the problem Wednesday, April 17 during its regular session, on motion of Councilor James Anthony Cuenco. Cuenco, chairman of the committee on transportation, laid out the City Council position by addressing “misconceptions” about CBRT, drawing mainly on the “perspective” of the April 3 resource persons: engineers Rene Santiago and Nigel Paul Villarete. The issues that were “clarified”: 

  • That the CBRT must pass through Capitol: It does not have to.

  • Canceling the CBRT will lead to getting “blacklisted” by donor nations: Precedent cases don’t show that, at least the cases cited before the Sanggunian. 

  • Modifying the project will be a waste of resources because “we’ve gone in too deep and spent a decent amount of the loan”: Not so; land acquisition, on which half the budgeted amount is allocated, is to be completed by 2025 first quarter and 50 percent of the money “has in fact not yet been spent.”

TWO-PRONGED ACTION. Cuenco had first expressed misgivings about the CBRT in a January 3, 2024 privilege speech. That, along with the questions of Majority Floor Leader Jocelyn Pesquera, amounted to a call to “scrap the project,” drawing from Mayor Michael Rama the sharp comment on the idea: “Stupid!”

The Sanggunian Wednesday approved Cuenco’s resolution on the two-pronged response: to Neda and DOTr on the changes in the project schedule and to the mayor on the city’s technical group and trial run.

THE CAPITOL FACTOR. Adjustments on Package 1 of CBRT may also include removing the opposition of the Cebu Provincial Government to the part of the project that uses parts of province-owned land near the Capitol.

Governor Gwen Garcia, along with the Cebu Provincial Board and most of the town mayors and municipal councils allied with the governor, has expressed strong opposition to the part of CBRT that involves real property belonging to the Province. Capitol alleges that bus stations for CBRT will obstruct the view of the building from Fuente Osmeña Rotunda, thus impairing its value as a heritage and historical edifice. The Cebu Capitol is on the National Historical Commission's list of national historical landmarks and to the National Museum is an “important cultural property.”

If the project is rerouted, that is expected to mollify the governor, who had clarified that she was not opposed to the project, only the part that it would “photo-bomb” the Capitol. It will also keep the concerned national agencies off the project.

CAN BE ANYWHERE ELSE BUT OSMEÑA BLVD. Both transportation experts Santiago and Villarete told the City Council in its April 3 executive session the CBRT could be anywhere else other than Osmeña Boulevard and near the Capitol. That route is not even the ideal route.

A different route may be adopted, according to Santiago and Villarete, as (1) the stretch from the bus terminal along Natalio Bacalso Avenue to Capitol and vice versa is “too short”; (2) Too many crosswalks occupy the route, impairing the CBRT’s efficiency; and (3) The BRT stations can be reduced in number and have “simpler design,” as that for a waiting shed, that will save time and money. On viability, Santiago said, “if you run that going through Capitol, there will probably be no passengers.”

Councilor Cuenco Wednesday reminded his colleagues that their resource persons saw a flaw in the current routes: “Instead of bringing people from their residences to business districts, they only connect the two commercial centers of Ayala Mall and IT Park, which is not anymore the original purpose of the BRT.” The original design of putting up a depot was for Bulacao or Talamban. Cuenco said DOTr’s “current request” is for a two-hectare depot in SRP: “not aligned with the BRT’s original purpose.”

ALTERNATIVE ROUTE. If Capitol is to be avoided, the resource persons’ alternative route is “via Fuente to Mango Avenue can be considered, provided the start and end points remain in Bulacao and Talamban. Quoting Villarete, Cuenco said: “We’re looking at not where it passes (as long as it is) towards the center. If there are people who don’t want it there, then let’s transfer it somewhere else.” The important part is “where it starts and where it ends.”

WHAT THE COUNCIL IS DOING. It’s presenting its stand on a project that it sees as being embroiled in a host of problems. The question of “why only now, why not before?” during the project’s gestation period is as valid though as “why not again, it was raised before,” only that at the time it wasn’t the City Council sounding a loud and unified voice.

And the apparent reason is that they’re not getting the facts they’re getting now, in the manner that it’s being done.

The City Council has adopted its stand, which is being circulated to all the agencies and people involved in or concerned about the CBRT. Start with the mayor: Would Mayor Rama budge from his seemingly inflexible position on scrapping CBRT (capsulized in the retort “Stupid!”)? He might. 

This is not outright scrapping or dumping CBRT. It is modifying it, based on the caution of resource persons (who cried wolf before but were ignored but may now rightfully say, “We told you so”) and, more importantly, the problems that plague the project at this stage but might still be overcome.


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