Don’t pay Belgian dredging firm, P-Noy told

MANILA, Sept. 27, 2011—Militant fisherfolk group, Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya), urged the Benigno C. Aquino III government not to pay the Belgian firm hired to do the dredging of the 90,000-hectare (222,394.843 acres) Laguna Lake in Luzon.

In a statement, Fernando Hicap, national chairperson of Pamalakaya and Pedro Gonzalez, spokesperson of the Save the Laguna Lake Movement (SLLM) said that President Aquino should stand firm for the nation’s interest and decide not to pay, even a single cent to the Baggerwerken Decloedt en Zoon (BDC), the company contracted to do the dredging at the lake, even it has filed a case before the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID), in Washington, D.C.

The BDC had decided to file a case against the Philippine Government as a protest against the latter’s decision to cancel the project as it was hounded with controversy. The BDC supposedly is to shell out around P18.7 billion (US$431,370,573.60) in order to “rehabilitate” the lake and to repair its waterways in order to prevent flooding on the places surrounding the lake.

“Instead of relying mainly on the irregularity of the contract as its defense, President Aquino should cite the negative and catastrophic impact of Laguna Lake Dredging project to the livelihood of hundreds of thousands of fisherfolk in Laguna Lake and [the] grand massacre of Laguna Lake environment due to dredging as the principal reasons why the contract is revoked and the project is cancelled,” the two fisherfolk leaders said in a joint statement.

“It would be a grand massacre of people’s sovereignty if Mr. Aquino will insist to pay the P4 billion damage sought by BDC. Why not let former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and her partners-in-crime face the Belgian firm before the international arbitration court and pay the P4-B damage instead? Anyway she has plundered this country twice, thrice or even tenfold of what BDC is asking for as damage,” they added.

But Hicap and Gonzalez doubt if the bachelor president could do it.

“However, the trouble with the Aquino administration is that it cannot assert the collective interest of the Filipino people and it heavily relies on the narrow legal parameters provided by obligations and contract along the game plan of corporate interests,” they said.

The two leaders cite the pushing of the public-private partnerships (PPPs) by the Aquino administration as a means to fund its social and infrastructure projects. For the Gonzalez and Hicap, PPPs mean more debts to pay by the Filipino people while getting less services from the Government.

Meanwhile, the SLLM and the Pamakalaya scored the “alternative” project proposed for the rehab of one of the world’s largest freshwater lakes.

Based on reports received by CBCPNews, there are about 54 projects waiting to be implemented for the lake’s development. One of these is the erection of the 100-kilometer road dike from Taytay, Rizal to the last town of Laguna province which is encompassed by the 94,000 hectare lake.

According to Pamalakaya and the SLLM, the Palace is ready to shell out about P400 billion ($9,227,220,624.67) to fund the said projects. However, the groups fear that it would be a source of corruption as they were sure that there were government officials who would take advantage of the project.

Hicap and Gonzalez also said that they are sure the agencies tasked to implement the project will give the contracts to the “favored” private construction firms. Through this, the commissions and other perks are assured, they said.

Moreover, Pamalakaya said the 54 projects in Laguna Lake under PPP and Laguna Lake Master Plan will displace at least 3.9 million fisherfolk and lake residents. The group said the government intends to reclaim not less than 5,000 hectares of the foreshore area of Laguna Lake to host industrial and commercial hubs to be constructed along the lake.

The group told CBCPNews that the Laguna Lake Development Authority (LLDA), in a dialogue, had admitted it is facing difficulty on how and where to relocate 400,000 families or roughly 2 million people who will be immediately affected as the master plan goes on full blast. (