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NEDA committee approves add’l budget: I am no longer worried about BRT - Osmeña

CEBU, Philippines - Cebu City Mayor Tomas Osmeña said he is no longer worried about the fate of the multi-billion Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) project in the city.

This, after the Investment Coordination Committee-Cabinet Committee (ICC-CC) of the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) approved the additional P5.6-billion budget to make the total amount intended for the implementation of the transportation project to P16.3 billion.

"I am not that worried. NEDA approved the project, and DOTr (Department of Transportation) is the implementing agency. They must implement. NEDA has spoken. Cebu won," Osmeña said on his Facebook post yesterday.

Osmeña is still on leave for a personal trip with his wife, Councilor Margarita Osmeña, in Japan.

The additional P5.69 billion of the current P10.6-billion budget for the BRT project is still subject to the approval of the NEDA Board, which President Rodrigo Duterte heads.

Osmeña said he is certain that Presidential Assistant for Visayas Michael Lloyd Dino will do everything to stall the BRT.

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"I have no doubt in my mind that Mr. Dino will do everything he can to force the DOTr to stop implementing the program. He will try to muscle his way in and make a fool out of Sec. Tugade, just like he did with Sec. Pernia," reads the Facebook post of Osmeña.

Osmeña said Dino, as Presidential Assistant, should "assist, not destroy" projects of local government units.

In a press statement, Dino said the DOTr has not changed its stand on putting on hold the Cebu BRT project pending the department's review and despite the approval of the additional budget by NEDA ICC-CC.

"I believe the DOTr can start its review of the project now that it has an official basis of the total cost after additional funding was approved by the ICC-NEDA," Dino said.

He added that there is all the more a need to review the project because "experts are in the opinion that the Cebu BRT will create more traffic congestion."

Dino has been pushing for a light rail transit project for Metro Cebu, including Cebu City.

To recall, NEDA Secretary Ernesto Pernia, who moved for the approval of the additional budget, was in Cebu on August 4 for an event. Pernia, in a press conference, was asked on the status of the BRT project, which he responded that the project is already in the advanced stages of implementation.

Hours after that press conference, Pernia "changed" his earlier statements after meeting Dino.  Pernia announced that BRT should be put on hold.

On August 8, NEDA issued a statement on its website that Pernia cannot, by himself, put the Cebu BRT project on hold following reports that the secretary “changed statements” about the implementation of the project.

On August 9, DOTr issued a separate press release saying the department is putting on hold the BRT project following the recent pronouncements of the NEDA.

"After years of study, both NEDA and the World Bank's technical experts agree that even if the BRT costs nine times as much as it will, it would still be financially viable, and it would still work in fixing traffic. Effective, efficient, affordable," Osmeña said.

Last Friday's meeting of NEDA’s ICC-CC paved the way for Cebu City officials to clarify the fate of the project.

Lawyer Rafael Yap, BRT project manager, said he had a chance to talk to DOTr Assistant Secretary Arnold Fabillar after the meeting of NEDA’s ICC-CC and the latter told him to proceed with the implementation of the project.

Yap was with City Administrator Nigel Paul Villarete, North District Representative Raul del Mar, and South District Representative Rodrigo Abellanosa in Manila City to attend the NEDA meeting.

Yap said the BRT-PIU and City's Land Acquisition Committee (LAC) will continue processing the lot acquisition as required under the Memorandum of Agreement signed by the city and the DOTr in December 2016.  Yap said the city's LAC will issue a Notice of Taking with Final Offer to the second batch of lot owners that are affected by the implementation of the BRT project.

Last week, Osmeña has approved about P327,404,000 of offers to commercial properties for the first batch.

The first and second batches of lot owners served with the notice were chosen based on the completeness of information and documents, Yap added.

In the notice, he said the city government is giving the property owners 30 days to accept or refuse the offer.

The city has P900 million from DOTr for the lot acquisition of affected properties.

The P5.69 billion additional budget is still for the lot acquisition, according to the newly passed Republic Act 10752 also known as an Act Facilitating the Acquisition of Right of Way Site or Location for National Government Infrastructure Projects, Yap said.

As to the stalled proposed ordinance finalizing the list of properties and lot owners affected by the BRT project, Yap said he will ask the members of the City Council to refer to his office all people that will raise queries about the project. (FREEMAN)


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