Cebu City Mayor Rama cries foul over province’s move to stop BRT construction

John Sitchon

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Cebu City Mayor Rama cries foul over province’s move to stop BRT construction

CIVIL WORKS. Materials and scaffolding remain in front of the Cebu Provincial Capitol at the Osmena Boulevard on Thursday, February 29.

John Sitchon/Rappler

Cebu City Mayor Mike Rama says he will no longer hold back when Cebu Governor Gwen Garcia counters his plans for the city

CEBU, Philippines – A fight could be in the offing between Cebu City Mayor Mike Rama and Cebu Governor Gwen Garcia, with the former asking: are you friend or foe?

What triggered Rama was a cease-and-desist order by the governor stopping the civil works for the Cebu Bus Rapid Transit (CBRT).

Rama vented on Cebu City’s teleradio channel on Thursday, February 29, his frustrations over Garcia’s latest actions.

“The governor is supposed to make friends or make it clear that they’re making enemies. (Are you) friend or foe,” the mayor said in Cebuano.

Up until this latest turn of events, Rama and Garcia were formidable allies under the banner of One Cebu, which delivered big for the Uniteam partnership of then candidates Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and Sara Duterte.

Garcia’s cease-and-desist memorandum dated Tuesday, February 27 claimed that the ongoing civil works for the CBRT along Osmeña Boulevard did not have prior authorization from the National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP).

To recall, civil works for the first phase of the CBRT were awarded to Hunan Road and Bridge Construction Group Co., Ltd and were expected to finish in the fourth quarter of 2023. 

The project has been hampered by delays due to complications ranging from unfinished feasibility studies and design issues.

In a press conference on Thursday afternoon, National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) National Advisory Board member Jose Bersales and Cebu Provincial Legal Officer Donato Villa said that the construction company violated the National Heritage Act of 2009.

Bersales said that the bus stations being built along Osmeña Boulevard blocked the view of the Cebu Provincial Capitol building from the Fuente Osmeña Rotunda, consequently “desecrating” the cultural significance and integrity of the historical structure.

In 2008, the NHCP declared the building a National Historical Landmark. After Republic Act No. 11961 was signed in August 2023, the building was then classified as a Grade 1 Heritage Structure.

Under the law, a heritage structure receives priority protection, and government projects that affect the integrity of the structure should consult first with the NCCA before implementation.

“The Cebu City Historical Commission was not consulted,” Bersales said.

Villa said that if the construction work would continue, there would be a “high probability” that the provincial government would file a case against the project implementers of the CBRT.

Under the National Heritage Act, violators can be fined P200,000 and/or imprisonment for a term of not less than 10 years, upon the discretion of the court

Rappler has reached out to Norvin Imbong, the project manager of the CBRT, for a statement on the matter but has yet to receive any reply.

Left out

Upon learning that Cebu City Vice Mayor Raymond Alvin Garcia and fellow councilors met with the governor to discuss what to do with the CBRT issue, Rama described the situation as “treachery.”

Wala ko’y kalibutan nga gatigum sila (I had no idea that they were meeting),” the mayor said on Thursday morning.

The vice mayor is a nephew of Governor Garcia.

On Wednesday, February 28, the Cebu City Council, which is headed by the vice mayor, passed a resolution ordering the Office of the Building Official to issue a cease-and-desist order against the civil works for the CBRT, supporting the governor’s move.

While Rama clarified that he was not against halting construction of the CBRT, he said that he resented how the councilors “blindsided” him on the issue.

Rama recalled that in the past he kept silent when the governor went against his plans during the previous Sinulog festival celebration in the city. 

Karon, wala na utongay. Wala na…Kung naa mo buhaton, klaro lang mo (This time, no more holding back. No more…if you want to do something, make it clear),” Rama said.

Rappler asked the governor for a comment on Rama’s statements but refused to give any. –

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