Manila Bulletin

Re­visit the La­guna de Bay pro­ject can­celled in 2011

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THIS Jan­uary, the World Bank’s In­ter­na­tional Cen­ter for the Set­tle­ment of In­vest­ment Dis­putes (ICSID) de­clared il­le­gal the Philip­pine gov­ern­ment’s can­cel­la­tion of a Bel­gian firm’s P18-bll­lion flood con­trol pro­ject, the La­guna Lake Re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion Pro­ject, in 2011. It or­dered the Philip­pine gov­ern­ment to pay the Bel­gian firm, Baager­w­erken De­cloedt En Zoon (BDZ) P800 mil­lion – what it had al­ready put into the coun­try plus in­ter­est since 2011.

The can­cel­la­tion of the con­tract was said to be a de­ci­sion of then new Pres­i­dent Benigno S. Aquino III who was sus­pi­cious of any deal en­tered into by the pre­vi­ous Glo­ria Ma­ca­pa­gal Ar­royo ad­min­is­tra­tion. Bel­gian Prime Min­is­ter Yves Leterme vouched for the pro­ject’s in­tegrity, cit­ing an in­de­pen­dent engineerin­g firm’s val­u­a­tion that it would truly “al­le­vi­ate flood­ing, im­prove lo­cal trans­porta­tion in­fras­truc­ture, and in­creasea wa­ter ca­pac­ity.” But his ap­peal was ig­nored and the con­tract was uni­lat­er­ally can­celled by the gov­ern­ment, lead­ing to the pro­ceed­ings in the in­ter­na­tional court.

Last week, Que­zon Rep. Danilo Suarez, House of Rep­re­se­n­a­tives mi­nor­ity leader, said the gov­ern­ment should re­visit the La­guna de Bay pro­ject, for the prob­lems it sought to al­le­vi­ate re­main to­day and have even wors­ened.

The pro­ject would have dredged and deep­ened La­guna de Bay to im­prove its ca­pac­ity as a catch­basin for rain­wa­ter fall­ing in sur­round­ing ar­eas, thus min­i­miz­ing flood­ing in the towns and ci­ties around the lake. It would have sim­i­larly dredged the Napin­dan Chan­nel, the lake’s out­let to Manila Bay via the Pasig River, cre­ated ad­di­tional nav­i­ga­tional chan­nels, and re­ha­bil­i­tated wet­lands around the lake.

It would have used the material dredged from the bot­tom of the lake to build re­claimed land where waste-wa­ter treat­ment fa­cil­i­ties would be built. The 90,000-hectare fresh-wa­ter lake could serve as a source of potable wa­ter in the area.

The case was de­cided by the in­ter­na­tional court af­ter seven years. But the is­sue goes beyond the le­gal losses to the coun­try, Con­gress­man Suarez said. The coun­try’s rep­u­ta­tion as a re­li­able in­vest­ment part­ner was tar­nished. And in all the years that the case dragged on in court, pol­lu­tion lev­els con­tin­ued to rise in La­guna Lake and floods kept threat­en­ing low-laying ar­eas.

For all these rea­sons, Con­gress­man Suarez urged the Duterte ad­min­is­tra­tion to re­vive the La­guna de Bay pro­ject and open new ne­go­ti­a­tions with the BDZ, said to be one of the biggest and most re­spected firms in the dredg­ing in­dus­try in the world, with a record that goes back 150 years.

A new pro­ject would also help to mend our re­la­tions with for­eign in­vestors such as BDZ. But much more im­por­tant is the need to clean up La­guna de Bay, ease the flood­ing along its shores, and de­velop it as a source of clean wa­ter for the peo­ple.

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