‘Ni isang hukay, wala pa’: Binay questions delays in foreign loan-funded rapid bus projects

Senator Nancy Binay on Friday, October 2, told the Department of Transportation (DOTr) to consider “rethinking” the Cebu Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) project, which has yet to break ground 5 years since it was scheduled to begin.

The P16.3 billion official development assistance (ODA) or foreign loan from the World Bank meant to finance the Cebu BRT is set to expire on June 30, 2021, and senators who heard the DOTr’s 2021 budget proposal on Friday wondered whether the project could still be done at all, and whether government funds have been spent on it yet.

The DOTr’s 2020 budget did not include an allocation for the Cebu BRT, and neither does its proposed 2021 budget, Binay noted.

Papaano uusad yung project? This is an ODA – loan ito. Babayaran natin ang utang, ni-isang hukay wala pang nagaganap (How can the project proceed? This is an ODA – a loan. We will pay the debt when it hasn’t even broken ground)?” Binay told DOTr officials who attended the virtual hearing by a Senate subcommittee on finance.

Binay pointed out that portions of the funding had been released to the DOTr over the last 5 years: P1.3 billion in 2015, P1.3 billion in 2016, P1 billion in 2017, P3 billion in 2018, and P422 million in 2019. Were all these spent on nothing?

Transportation Undersecretary Garry de Guzman said these amounts reverted to the Treasury since the Cebu BRT was stalled – they were not lost. However, he admitted that the delays in the project is costing the government in commitment fees stipulated in the ODA agreement.

Transportation Assistant Secretary Steve Pastor said the DOTr asked the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) to negotiate with the World Bank for an extension on the loan’s effectivity.

Although the DOTr’s proposed 2021 budget includes no funding for the Cebu BRT, De Guzman said the agency can request money from the government’s unprogrammed funds, which he says is standard practice in ODA projects. Senator Imee Marcos questioned whether this was allowed.

'We should seriously rethink this project'

Designed to significantly improve vehicle traffic in Cebu City, the Cebu BRT is a planned network of bus routes efficiently covering the fast-growing metropolis. Pastor said the project was shelved in 2017 because of some feasibility issues. It was revived in 2018, when technical service consultants were hired to fix its detailed engineering design.

“Minamadali po natin ito and we are to launch po procurement by this quarter, and sana po by February – ang target natin is that construction would start February 2021,” Pastor told the Senate panel.

(We are hurrying this along and we are to launch procurement by this quarter, and hopefully by February – our target is that construction would start February 2021.)

But with the government preoccupied with the COVID-19 pandemic, including in spending, is it realistic to expect the project to still take off? Binay noted that a huge chunk of the P422 million allotted for the Cebu BRT in the extended 2019 budget was realigned for the pandemic.

“I think we should seriously rethink this project because utang nga ito and it’s been 5 years, walang nangyayari doon sa proyekto. Kawawa naman ‘yung mga kababayan natin doon sa Cebu na alam naman natin malaking problema rin nila ang traffic,” Binay said.

(I think we should seriously rethink this project because it’s a loan and it’s been 5 years, nothing has happened to the project. It’s a pity for our countrymen in Cebu who, we know, also have traffic as a big problem.) 

Delays in the Metro Manila BRT, too

Binay also noted delays in the Metro Manila BRT projects, which, like the Cebu BRT, were laid out in 2015.

The DOTr has clearance from the World Bank for the project procurement plan of the Metro Manila BRT Line 1 project involving Quezon Avenue, Pastor told the Senate panel.

The government has so far spent P60 million to P80 million on the initial phases of the project, he added.

Worth P4 billion, the Metro Manila BRT Line 1 is also financed through an ODA from the World Bank. The loan will mature in November 2022.

Meanwhile, the Asian Development Bank has withdrawn from the Metro Manila BRT Line 2 project, which would have served EDSA, Ayala Avenue in Makati City, and C5 Road, Pastor said.

The project was shelved in 2018, he added. – Rappler.com

JC Gotinga

JC Gotinga often reports about the West Philippine Sea, the communist insurgency, and terrorism as he covers national defense and security for Rappler. He enjoys telling stories about his hometown, Pasig City. JC has worked with Al Jazeera, CNN Philippines, News5, and CBN Asia.