OPINION: What’s withLagunaLake?

The largest freshwater lake in the Philippinesis on the spotlight as the Baggerwerken Decloedt en Zoon (BDC), a Belgian firm offering maintenance dredging, port construction and development, and land reclamation had filed a case against the Philippine Government before the Washington, D.C.-based International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes. What’s the reason? President Benigno C. Aquino III had cancelled the P18.7 billion dredging project, entered into by the former administration of Mrs. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

According to the Save Laguna Lake Movement (SLLM), the dredging project is not meant to rehabilitate the 90,000-hectare lake but to pave way into its “privatization.” Conveners of the group, mostly fisherfolk leaders and environmentalists, insist that the project is aimed to attract foreign and local firms to put their money on the lake. In other words, the project makes the lake “for sale” for capitalists.

There are two issues to discuss here: (1) the irregularity of the contract between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GPH) as represented by Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), if this author is not mistaken; and (2) the long-term effect of the project if it would push through.

The Laguna Lake is the source of livelihood of more or less half-a-million fishermen from Laguna, Rizal and some from Metro Manila. It is the home for certain types of prawns, 23 species of freshwater fish, and about 10 saltwater ones. However, the industries and some farm facilities surrounding the lake had polluted the waters, making it prone to massive fish kills. As we can see, capitalism kills the environment. But that’s another issue.

***

Going back to the issue of the dredging project, the Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya), one of the largest alliances of fisherfolks’ organizations in thePhilippinesclaimed that the Belgian Government has no knowledge about the contract between the GPH and the BDC, that the project is not a part of its overseas development assistance (ODA).

In addition to this, the Belgian dredging firm, Jan De Nul said that the contract is anomalous since it was awarded to the rival BDC without public bidding. Jan De Nul was one of the companies vying for the project but eventually lose bid since the contract was awarded to BDC. This, according to Jan De Nul the Philippines’ Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) had violated the Republic Act No. 9184 or the Government Procurement Law by rewarding the BDC the project.

If this is true, the project must not push through; and fortunately, it is not as President Aquino had cancelled the onerous contract last 05 December 2010. However, the BDC had had a case filed against the GPH and asking the World Bank-created ICSID to force thePhilippinesto pay them P4 billion (US$ 92,438,527.47) for damages due to the cancellation of the contract.

This is baloney. Why thePhilippinesshould pay them if the contract is onerous, not to mention, detrimental to the lake’s overall health and will rob the 500,000 fisherfolks their livelihood? While the primary movers of the project say that it would be for “development,” or for economic growth of communities around the lake, but we think it’s otherwise.

Development should be sustainable, says the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). The Bruntland report in 1987 had given a clear cut definition of sustainable development:

“Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

Now, if the Laguna Lake will be severely damaged due to the dredging project being pushed by the BDC, can it be called “sustainable development”? Moreover, the groups opposing the project is firm on their stance that the project is but the key to open the door for the lake’s privatization or the complete sale of the 90,000+ hectare lake to corporations. Would you call that sustainable development, too?

Development should satisfy the needs and aspirations of the entire human race, not of the few.

The UN insists that development should involve a “progressive transformation of economy and society.” However, in the case of the shelvedLagunaLakedredging project, it is regressive since the health of the lake will be affected. A dead lake cannot provide livelihood to people; and a people without livelihood is dead people.

***

Meanwhile, while the Benigno C. Aquino III government had shelved the project, they came up with more grandiose ones.

Allegedly, Malacañang has asked for P400 billion ($9,227,220,624.67) to fund the 54 “development project” for theLagunaLake. Impressive! The chief executive “shelved” the project of the previous administration in order to push for his “own” development projects for the lake. Kahanga-hanga talaga!

The groups who are against the projects said that aside from displacing some 3.9 million people, the pending projects would also reclaims some 5,000 hectares of the lake to be transformed into commercial and industrial centers. Another brilliant idea! The current administration is now bringing the polluters and the environment-assassins to the very bosom of the lake! How brilliant! How eco-friendly!

***

Just to clarify: We are not against development and we are definitely not, anti-State.

What we say here is that development should not be “massacring” the livelihood of the people and the ecosystems. It should be “sustainable.” Yes, the output of the aforementioned projects could be beneficial today, but how about the years to come?

Perhaps, as an economist, President Aquino should be a visionary. He should consider the “future” not only now. As the popular quote from Anna Manalastas of the 100 Days to Heaven: “Kuha mo?!”