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Neda chief backs BRT

By: Jose Santino S. Bunachita and Morexette Marie B. Erram April 19,2018 - 10:57 PM

Cebu City Mayor Tomas Osmeña (right) approaches NEDA Secretary Ernesto M. Pernia which he discusses that Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) is ready for implementation because it is the short term solution to Cebu after the Q and A of the Philippine Economic briefing in Marco Polo Plaza hotel.(CDN PHOTO/JUNJIE MENDOZA)


Transportation Assistant Secretary Mark Steven Pastor confirms DOTr received a proposal for a P155-billion Cebu LRT project but it was returned to the proponents because it had no feasibility study, among other ‘deficiencies’

Immediate and long-term solutions to Cebu’s traffic. This was how Socioeconomic and Planning Secretary and National Economic and Development Authority (Neda) Director General Ernesto Pernia described the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) and Light Rail Transit (LRT) projects, respectively.

As such, the cabinet official, who was among the speakers of yesterday’s third leg of the Philippine Economic Briefing (PEB) held in Cebu, said the Cebu BRT project should push through.

“I think, as far as short-term solution to the problem is concerned, we could have the BRT because it is ready for implementation. It is already in the detailed engineering and design. So we can have it completed in two years,” he said in answer to a question from one of the participants who asked which between the BRT and LRT is the better solution to Cebu’s growing traffic woes.

But even so, Pernia pointed out that an LRT project, with even a subway component, can be a long-term
solution, pointing out that it could take from 10 to 15 years to complete it since there is still no feasibility study for this project.

Pernia, later speaking to reporters, revealed he saw the unsolicited proposal of the Chinese-led consortium for a P155-billion LRT project in Cebu that was submitted to the Department of Transportation (DOTr), but it only had a pre-feasibility study, which means it was “impossible” to get it into construction phase by 2019, as claimed by its proponents.

Deficient unsolicited proposal

DOTr Assistant Secretary Mark Steven Pastor, who was also present as one of the speakers during yesterday’s PEB on behalf of Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade, declined to comment on the fate of the BRT project, saying he has no authority to speak in this matter for the department or Tugade.

But Pastor confirmed that the DOTr has received the unsolicited proposal for the P155-billion Cebu LRT project and that they found “deficiencies” in the proposal. This prompted the DOTr to return it to the proponent for correction.

Pastor said one of the deficiencies they saw was the lack of the feasibility study for the project.
Pastor affirmed that what the proponents submitted was only a “pre-feasibility study,” which was not enough.

“So the department sent a correspondence to the proponent and informed them that the unsolicited proposal was insufficient. But it was never denied. We are still awaiting for the subsequent unsolicited proposal if there will be any,” he said.

For his part, Pernia said that the claim that the project can start construction by 2019 is not possible, “according to our experience.”

Pernia said a full feasibility study can take up to one year, and the proposal will have to undergo government processes while actual construction may take up to 10 years.

After an unsolicited proposal is received by an agency like the DOTr, Pernia said the proponent will be granted an “original proponent status.”

If all documents are complete, it will be referred to the Neda for a technical evaluation. It will then go to an inter-agency group for another evaluation before it goes to the Neda-Investment Coordination Committee (ICC) and the cabinet committee, and, finally, to the Neda Board chaired by the President.

Even if the project is approved by the Neda Board, it will still be subjected to a Swiss Challenge before proponents can start actual implementation, Pernia stressed.

The LRT proposal

Pernia’s statements came just a few days after reports came out that the P155-billion Cebu LRT proposal is now being considered at the DOTr, the same implementing agency of the P17-billion BRT project.

The proposal was reportedly led by Chinese businessman Chris Kou as the representative of a Chinese-dominated consortium of at least five local and foreign companies that want to undertake a Cebu-wide LRT project.

Singaporean architect Tjen Hian Ka, senior director of the SAA Group of Architects, is reportedly their senior consultant.

The LRT project is backed by Presidential Assistant for the Visayas Michael Dino who has repeatedly insisted that the BRT, which is being pushed by Cebu City Mayor Osmeña, would just be a waste of money as it is no longer applicable given Cebu City’s narrow roads.

BRT’S fate

While he is personally pushing for the implementation of the BRT, Pernia stressed that the decision will have to be done collectively by the Neda ICC, which will meet on April 25 to discuss the BRT project as well as other infrastructure projects in the pipeline.

The meeting will be crucial, he said, because the ICC members will need to give their nod to the project for it to proceed. If he is outvoted by other members, Pernia said the BRT may not be able to push through.

But as far as he was concerned, Pernia said it would be difficult to stop the BRT’s implementation.

“I don’t know if we can stop it. That’s why we have to discuss it. It seems so (that it is ready for implementation). It was approved a long time ago already. Then we approved the increase in price from P9 billion to P16 billion just last year,” he said.

Sought for comment on accusations that Dino has a hand in blocking the BRT project, Pernia replied: “I don’t want to make a judgment on that. He cannot do it himself because he is not even a part of the ICC.”

The ICC is composed of the Finance Secretary as chairman; the Neda Director General as co-chairman; and the Executive Secretary, the Secretaries of Agriculture, Trade and Industry and Budget and Management, and the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas governor as members.

“We should probably go ahead with the BRT. The BRT gives us a 53-percent economic internal rate of return. When the project is completed, it will alleviate a lot of woes and pains on the commuters and the riding public,” Pernia added.

He said, he said

Reacting to Pernia’s statement, Osmeña, in a text message sent to reporters yesterday, said: “(Pernia’s announcement) makes Dino a liar, doesn’t it? You shouldn’t be surprised. Dino caused a two-year delay and it’s ongoing as the staff of the implementing were laid-off and there are no replacements yet.”

The mayor also attended the PEB held at the Marco Polo Plaza Hotel yesterday and talked with Pernia after the program.

Dino, in a separate text message to CDN, said he would leave everything to the DOTr. “(But) I cannot see the BRT even as a short-term solution. That system will definitely create more traffic in Cebu. We will have chaos and havoc in the streets thus, making Cebu unlivable,” Dino added.

Osmeña and Dino, through the Facebook pages of the mayor and that of the Office of the Presidential Assistant for the Visayas (OPAV), have engaged in a word war on social media in the last three days since a Chinese-led consortium was revealed to be in talks with DOTr for the construction of the LRT.

“As I said before, I promise not to block Michael Dino’s P150-billion LRT subway project, which he promised to begin in 2019 and will be ready four years after that. Of course, none of this is reason to stop the fully-funded and approved BRT from being implemented, although this is obviously the excuse Mr. Dino is looking for, yet he’s still too talawan (afraid) to actually face me in a debate,” Osmeña said on his Facebook page yesterday.

The OPAV, on the other hand, posted a two-part statement justifying why the BRT will no longer work with the existing narrow roads in Cebu City.

“Dedicated bus lanes will restrict cars to 1 or 2 lanes. The loss of a 3-and-a-half meter-lane of road to BRT only increases the odds of worsening traffic congestion. In addition, there are no plans to widen affected roads. Right-of-way acquisition is restricted to stations, depots, and terminal areas,” the OPAV said.

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TAGS: backs, BRT, chief, NEDA

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