By: Morexette Marie B. Erram and Jose Santino S. Bunachita April 23,2018 - 11:00 PM

Cebu City Mayor Tomas Osmeña says he is confident and hopeful that the BRT project will get the approval of the National Economic Development Authority – Investment Coordination Committee despite efforts of some government officials pushing for its cancellation. CDN PHOTO/TONEE DESPOJO

The business sector is pushing for the implementation of the Cebu Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) on one condition: widen the roads affected by the project.

The Cebu Chamber of Commerce and Industry (CCCI) issued a statement on Monday following reports that Transportation Secretary Arturo Tugade was recommending the cancellation of the P17-billion road project.

“Cebu urgently needs a mass transport system today. It has already reached a chokepoint with traffic congestion affecting all sectors of society,” said the business group.

“The (BRT) project is ready to take off. The Chamber believes a major road widening component along its routes is now essential to address current realities. CANCELLATION is not the right thing to do,” it added.

Instead of constant bickering, the business group instead urged all stakeholders to cooperate on coming up with a mass transport system as soon as possible.

The CCCI is the biggest business group in the Visayas and Mindanao, next only to the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry. It has more than 800 member-companies and 40 sectorial members.

Tugade recommended the cancellation of the BRT project based on the findings of an inter-department task force he formed to evaluate the project.

The recommendation was sent to the National Economic and Development Authority – Investment Coordination Committee (NEDA- ICC) on April 11, two weeks before the scheduled meeting on April 25.

A copy of the three-page letter was furnished to Cebu Daily News by the Office of the Presidential Assistant for the Visayas (OPAV).

Tugade’s letter cited the findings of the task force which stated that the BRT was no longer relevant since the volume of vehicles plying Cebu City had increased in the last six years since the project was recommended and that the roads were narrow for the buses.

Aside from the millions worth of pesos incurred due to the delays in the implementation, the task force said the funds were underutilized, citing that only P409 million was used out of P1.09 billion allocated for road-right-of-way acquisition.

The task force also maintained that there was no legal impediment in canceling the project

“The project’s cancellation has legal anchor on the fact that there is neither prohibition nor any legal impediment on the part of the DOTr not to terminate the same. Moreover, under Item 13 of the loan agreement with Agence Francaise de Developpment (AFD), the borrower, in this case the Philippine government, through the DOF (Department of Finance), may withdraw from the Project or may cease to be part of it,” the task force stated.
Tugade’s letter, however, was silent on any alternative to the BRT as solution to the city’s traffic problems should the project be cancelled.

Cebu Daily News tried to reach Tugade on Monday but the calls were unanswered.

Secretary Ernesto Pernia, director general of the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA), told CDN in a phone interview that he had not received a copy of Tugade’s letter.

He, however, said he expected the recommendation to be taken up during the NEDA-ICC meeting on Wednesday.

“Personally, I can say the BRT is a go. But that’s only in my capacity as chair of the NEDA. Remember, the ICC is composed of several members. I’m only the vice chairperson. We’ll just have to wait for the outcome this Wednesday,” Pernia said.

The NEDA – ICC is chaired by Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez with Pernia as co-chair. Its members are the Executive Secretary, the Secretaries of Agriculture, Trade and Industry and Budget and Management, and the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas governor.

In the event that the NEDA – ICC approves the BRT project, Pernia said the Department of Transportation (DOTr) cannot go against their committee’s decision despite suggesting to cancel it.

“Hindi po yan pwede (That’s not allowed). They will have to (abide with it since they are the implementing agency),” said Pernia.

Cebu City Mayor Tomas Osmeña, however, remained confident and hopeful that the NEDA-ICC would give his pet-project the green light.

“It has already been approved two times – by the Department of Finance and the NEDA. And both secretaries (Dominguez and Pernia) are in favor of the BRT. No, they cannot cancel the BRT. But I’m not here to be presumptuous. I’m here to defend it,” he added.

Osmeña reiterated his warning that terminating the multilateral agreement the Philippines has entered into with its creditors will have repercussions.

He said the Philippines may end up being blocked by the creditors and would not be allowed to borrow money to fund projects in the future.

“If they cancel it, then (Cebu City) won’t have anything for the next 10 years. The Philippines will be blacklisted. I cannot speak for the WB (World Bank) and the French government but they don’t like things like these. You cannot break a multilateral agreement,” said Osmeña.

The project was funded by loans from the WB and the Agence Francaise de Developpment (AFD).

Osmeña said he believed that Tugade’s recommendation was only meant to stop the BRT to give way to the P155-billion Cebu Light Rail Transit (LRT) which was being pushed by Secretary Michael Dino, Presidential Assistant for the Visayas.

The mayor challenged both Tugade and Dino to fix first the numerous breakdowns of the Metro Rail Transit System (MRT) in Metro Manila before constructing an LRT in Cebu.

During the Philippine Economic Briefing (PEB) held in Cebu City last April 19, Pernia said the BRT would push through as a “short-term solution” on the traffic of Cebu while the LRT, which was proposed by a Chinese-led consortium, would follow after as a “long-term” solution.

The CCCI echoed Pernia’s observation, and added that both modes of transportation could complement each other.

“While BRT is a short term solution ready for implementation, LRT which will benefit a bigger volume of commuters over a wider area of Cebu should be actively pursued today for implementation within the shortest time possible to support the high growth of Cebu. LRT and BRT will complement each other,” CCCI said.

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