The UMRT Central Line

STREETLIFE - Nigel Villarete - The Freeman

The reported request of the Department of Transportation (DOTr) for an endorsement from the Cebu City Council, to conduct a feasibility study for the Metro Cebu Urban Mass Rapid Transit (UMRT) Central Line is music to the ears of many, especially to rail enthusiasts who we fondly call as “trainspotters”. Let’s admit it, it’s not really asking if we like it or not, but rather a procedural move to get the necessary endorsements that are needed in project application and approval. It’s a NEDA-Investment Coordination Committee (ICC) requirement.

And who wouldn’t like it? I’ve written countless times on children’s (especially boys’) penchant for toy trains we get on Christmas. Especially when it really makes choo-chooing sounds as it runs on circular tracks. And since we live in a country where it’s not a daily sight, unless you live in Manila, the thought of it becoming a reality induces excitement indeed. Not that it’s something new, this project has been in the city’s wish list for 30 to 40 years! I can still remember the initial excitement when it first became news before the ‘90’s.

Let’s hope we will not wait too long. I spent enough time in the government to know some of these things are good for news reports only. Indeed, if only our government agencies and officials would regularly inform and update their constituents, we wouldn’t be always left hanging for the next update. But there are missing facts and unanswered questions, foremost of which is the status of the Cebu Monorail Transit System Project. A quick check with the Public-Private Partnership Center website would reveal that it is “Under initial evaluation by the implementing agency.” Meaning, DOTr. So, what gives?

Prudence dictates that the Cebu City Council makes sure there won’t be any misunderstanding in giving any endorsements to the NEDA-ICC. Sure, any of those two (or any other denomination for that matter) would be much welcome. But the NEDA-ICC has strict regulations on project development and evaluation --you can’t endorse two projects that presumably compete with each other. So, before they even contemplate passing a resolution endorsing the recent DOTr-UMRT proposal, they need to verify if the Cebu Monorail Project is still pending at the NEDA-ICC. Or if they, or the previous council has also endorsed it. The same goes for DOTr, too --why are they asking for endorsement for a similar project when they have a pending one at NEDA-ICC? Or do they even know? If I’m not wrong, the present crop of DOTr officials is not the same ones who endorsed the Cebu Monorail project in 2019.

The right term for all of these is due diligence. There are right ways of doing things and also wrong ways. DOTr is now asking for an endorsement for their study, yet there was already a submitted project, which presumably had already been studied. It’s not just a procedural matter but also the correct use of funds. Why spend for studies when previous ones exist? Review previous endorsements first; check with NEDA-ICC first. Then decide whether we want a UMRT, a monorail, or any other denomination. We’ve had too many studies already, it’s time to evaluate, choose, and decide.

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