EXPLAINER: Does Cebu City need bike lane patrollers? Sanggunian approves P1.7M back wages although councilors question the hiring. In 2021, CCTO asked, Where are the 120 marshals?

·4 min read

WHAT JUST HAPPENED. The Cebu City Council approved Wednesday, September 14, payment of a total of P1.7 million in purported backs salaries to an undetermined number of "job order" employees assigned as patrollers of the city's bike lanes.

Money had been appropriated earlier for them. Councilor Noel Wenceslao, sponsor, moved for its charging against an earlier appropriation for "bike lanes, miscellaneous services."

Wenceslao's move would've passed quickly, the "moved-seconded-discussion none-approved" kind with which presiding officer, Vice Mayor Raymond Alvin Garcia, uses to run a more efficient Sanggunian. It did not, not quickly.

The "reservations" came from the minority floor leader, Councilor Nestor Archival Sr., and, oddly, Majority Floor Leader Jocelyn Pesquera.

DUPLICATION, LACK OF AUTHORITY. Both Archival and Pesquera seemed to agree that hiring the patrollers has resulted in duplication of services. There are already personnel from Cebu City Transportation Office (CCTO), which among others "enforce(s) traffic laws in order to maintain road user discipline in the city."

Pesquera also cited the patrollers' "lack of authority" as they cannot do the enforcement functions of people at CCTO.

Even Councilor Wenceslao agreed with Pesquera and Archival, "We don't need the patrollers."

SOME CONTEXT. As of March 2021, almost a year after then mayor Edgardo Labella promised to open bike lanes, the mayor's office reported the completion of bike lanes, with the help of DPWH or public works department on 24 roads in the city, including major thoroughfares in downtown such as Osmeña Blvd., Natalio Bacalso Ave., Colon St., V. Rama Ave. and General Maxilom Ave.

City Ordinance #2408, a.k.a. Sugbo Bike Lanes Ordinance of October 29, 2014, created the "bike-friendly" areas, with the Sugbo Bike-lanes Board (SBLB) tasked to oversee them.

In 2021, when then mayor Labella tackled the matter of enforcement, he deplored the practice of some vehicle drivers to block bike lanes and use them as parking area. He said the vehicles in such violation will be towed by CCTO.

There's duplication if CCTO and the bike lane patrollers are doing the same job.

But the councilors didn't know. The patrollers may be doing what Labella a year ago tasked CCTO to do. It may be substitution, or passing on, of functions, not duplication.

COUNCILORS DIDN'T HAVE THE FACTS. Apparently though, the City Council -- or the councilors raising the issue of bike patrollers last Wednesday -- lacked knowledge about the issue.

[] Councilor Wensceslao didn't know how many patrollers were hired by the City.

"I see many of them," he told his colleagues, without giving the exact number or his best estimate.

[] Councilor Pesquera wasn't specific about the patrollers' lack of enforcement authority. If the patrollers didn't have such authority, why did Paul Gotiong, CCTO spokesperson, lament in July 2021 -- when the Metro Cebu Bike Lane network was inaugurated -- that CCTO was asking SBLB to start deploying their "bike marshals" because CCTO didn't have enough enforcers to monitor the bike lanes. CCTO enforcers were deployed at intersections in high-volume areas, Gotiong said.

Did Wenceslao, Pesquera and Archival know or remember that in 2021, CCTO through Gotiong publicly said the SBLB "was supposed to have 120 bike patrollers" who had undergone training "but until now (that is, in July 2021), they were nowhere to be seen," which suggested that the hiring of patrollers was provided by ordinance.

UNTIL DECEMBER. It wasn't clear if the charging of payment covered only back wages. Apparently not, since the councilors talked of both back pay and paying until December. Councilor Wenceslao implied that he favored review of the need for patrollers but would like them paid until yearend and they adopt changes to take effect in January next year. The approved payment will be for the rest of the year, starting July.

“REVISITING” THE PROJECT. The City Council didn't agree to review the bike lanes project -- what was approved was the charging of payment -- although they talked about it in connection with the salary of patrollers.

They may as well revisit the project, given that the Sanggunian doesn't know details on its progress. Councilor Joy Augustus Young indicated that the bike lanes are worsening the city's problem of narrow roads; even the Ayala Business Park seems to be struggling with its bike lanes.

WHO'LL DO IT. The councilors worried over how public funds are being spent may re-read the ordinance on bike lanes, be briefed by SBLBd and find ways to improve it by amendment.

Councilor Mary Ann de los Santos said that only the mayor can review the project and review his executive order. That is, if it was created by E.O. But its origin is mostly likely an ordinance, on which the City Council, unilaterally or by the mayor's initiative, take corrective measures.

Whatever the manner of revisit, basic facts are needed, a recurring shortage the public sees when the councilors discuss legislative action.