In yet another turn of events, the Cebu Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) has taken a step closer to its implementation after additional funds for the project was green-lighted by the country’s economic managers yesterday.
The National Economic and Development Authority (Neda) Investment Coordination Committee (ICC) Cabinet Committee (CabCom), in a meeting in Manila yesterday, approved the additional P5.69-billion budget requested by BRT proponents.
According to BRT project implementation unit (PIU) head Rafael Yap, who flew to Manila to attend the meeting, their additional budget request still needs to get approved by the Neda Board, which is chaired by President Rodrigo Duterte.
But the fact that it has gone through the Neda–ICC–CabCom is a major step and a “confidence booster” for those working hard to retain the BRT project, which Presidential Assistant for the Visayas Michael Dino wants scrapped.
From the earlier approved budget of P10.6 billion, the BRT project would now cost P16.3 billion.
“The Department of Transportation (DOTr) will still work to get the Neda Board approval, but the ICC–CabCom endorsement or approval is already a huge step because it shows that the project is very much economically viable,” Yap said.
Neda Undersecretary Rolando G. Tungpalan, interviewed by the Inquirer prior to the ICC–CabCom meeting, has said that the proposed increase in the project cost of the first BRT in Cebu was for right-of-way acquisition.
The projects to be approved by the Neda–ICC–CabCom will be forwarded to the Neda Board chaired by the President for his final approval, he said.
The BRT project is among the over P3.6 trillion in public infrastructure projects that the Duterte administration would be rolling out from 2018 until 2020, as Neda jacked up to 75 from 55 previously the number of so-called flagship, “game-changing” projects that the administration aims to start and complete before 2022.
Under its “Build, Build, Build” program, the Duterte administration plans to spend up to P9 trillion until 2022 to usher in a “golden age of infrastructure.”
The Cebu BRT project has been the center of controversy recently after calls for the suspension of its implementation surfaced. Dino has been opposing the project saying it will not work in Cebu City where the roads are narrow, as was also recommended by transportation engineer Rene Santiago in an earlier forum.
The DOTr issued a press release on Wednesday evening saying that the BRT project has been placed on hold, but Yap said they have not received any formal memorandum to this effect.
“I was told that in the absence of a formal memo, proceed with implementing the project,” Yap said.
He said it was DOTr Assistant Secretary Arnold Fabillar who gave him this instruction yesterday.
Sought for comment, Dino, in a statement sent to Cebu Daily News through his chief of staff Jonji Gonzales, said he believed the DOTr has not changed its stand on putting the Cebu BRT project on hold pending the department’s review.
Dino said the DOTr could now start a review of the BRT’s project cost since additional funding has been approved by the ICC.
“I still believe that the project needs review because experts are in the opinion that the Cebu BRT will create more traffic congestion,” Dino said.
He added: “ICC-NEDA’s approval for additional funding of the project only shows that politics is out of the picture in (the Duterte administration’s) effort to deliver the best public service,” he added.
The BRT-PIU, together with the Cebu City government’s Land Acquisition Committee, has started sending notices to owners of commercial properties that will be affected by the road right-of-way (RROW) acquisition for the BRT project.
The committee, in a meeting last Tuesday, approved a total of P327.404 million as total compensation for the first batch of affected properties.
Under Republic Act No. 10752 or the Right of Way Act, owners have up to 30 days to accept or refuse the offer of the project proponents. After which, expropriation proceedings will be pursued against them.
In a press release, Yap explained that the Neda-ICC–CabCom decided that the BRT project is still very much viable.
He explained that the increase in the needed budget for the project is due to the passage of Republic Act 10752.
“Sec(retary) Dominguez stressed that the task of the ICC CabCom was limited to the cost increase of the Cebu BRT project and not to compare the viability of the Cebu BRT project versus other modes of public transportation,” Yap said in his statement.
Yap was referring to Department of Finance Secretary Carlos “Sonny” Dominguez, who sits as the Neda ICC CabCom’s chairperson.
‘BRT and LRT’
Aside from Yap, Cebu City was represented in the meeting by other officials who included Cebu City Representatives Rep. Raul del Mar (north district) and Rodrigo Abellanosa (south district); and City Administrator Nigel Paul Villarete, who is tasked by Mayor Tomas Osmeña to oversee the project implementation.
Del Mar said he stressed during the ICC–CabCom meeting that there should be no issue on whether Cebu City needs the BRT or the Light Rail Transit (LRT) being pushed by Dino.
“I explained to them that the issue between BRT or LRT is a non-issue because we need them both. It is not BRT or LRT. It is BRT and LRT. We need them,” he said in a phone interview yesterday.
He said that he himself proposed for the LRT in Cebu 20 years ago, but it was not approved since the national government prioritized Metro Manila.
But since the BRT is already funded and has started its implementation, Del Mar said it should be supported by all sectors in Cebu.
“LRT hasn’t started step one, but BRT is already in the implementation phase. How can you think of substituting BRT with LRT?” Del Mar asked.
He added, “To cancel the BRT and wait for 10 years for LRT to be ready for implementation is nonsense. You will make the people suffer 10 years?”
Del Mar said the approval was made by the Neda–ICC–CabCom unanimously and that there were no significant discussions raised by the members.
In fact, it was Neda Director General and Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Ernesto Pernia who moved for the approval of the additional budget. The motion was seconded by Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) Secretary Ramon Lopez.
The Neda–ICC is led by the secretary of Finance as chairman, the Neda director general as co-chairman, and the executive secretary. Members of the Neda–ICC include the secretaries of Agriculture, Trade and Industry, Budget and Management and the governor of the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas.
It was Pernia who earlier announced that the Cebu BRT should be put on hold pending a feasibility study for a Light Rail Transit (LRT) system in Cebu.
But Del Mar said he was able to talk to Pernia yesterday and the latter was able to clarify that his statements were misunderstood.
He said Pernia explained to him that he could not decide by himself to stop the implementation of the BRT project as it needs to be collectively decided by the entire Neda–ICC–CabCom.
“And now that the decision is here, that (approval of the additional budget) is the decision of the Neda–ICC,” Del Mar said.
Del Mar said he was confident that President Duterte, as chairman of the Neda Board, would approve the project since it has been approved for additional funding by the ICC–Cabcom.
Del Mar said he believed the President would agree with their position that the BRT project is for the best interest of the people of Cebu City.
“In all likelihood, it will be approved by the Neda Board unless there is something seriously wrong. If there was anything seriously wrong, the ICC would not have approved it. And now the ICC will be recommending that to the Neda Board already. I don’t believe there’s any problem anymore,” Del Mar said.
Besides, he added that the Neda–ICC–CabCom is composed of the President’s Cabinet secretaries.
No stopping the project
Villarete, in a separate phone interview, also expressed confidence that the additional budget will be approved by the Neda Board.
“It is very unlikely that the Neda Board will disapprove an increase in cost approved by the ICC-CabCom of a project Neda itself already approved in the first place,” he said in an interview after the meeting.
“The recommendation of the ICC-CabCom to the Neda Board is increase in cost, not project approval. It was specifically mentioned in the ICC meeting that it’s extremely difficult to stop a project with existing loan agreements from three entities and already in the implementation stage,” Villarete added.
Acting Cebu City Mayor Edgardo Labella likewise expressed his support to the project implementation.
He explained that he has been part of those who pushed for the BRT before and that his stand will not change.
“If it can complement with each other, then why not? For as long as these are mass transport systems that would really mitigate the very serious traffic problem of the city,” he told reporters.
He pointed out that there are already several studies on the feasibility of the BRT.