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Cost to nation of Aquino’s 2011 stopping of Laguna Lake project will be colossal

Second of Two Parts
IT is likely that only when Metropolitan Manila and towns near Laguna de Bay are horrendously flooded in the coming monsoon season, will we realize how stupidly arrogant and patently incompetent former President Benigno Aquino III was, and people in those calamity areas will be demanding his lynching.

Read on and you tell me if I’m just biased and exaggerating.

Even to the end of his regime, at his last State of the Nation Address in July 2015, Aquino denigrated the P18-billion Laguna Lake Rehabilitation Project, which his predecessor President Arroyo had pushed: “Higit sa P18 bilyon ang tinangkang lustayin sa paglalaro ng putik. Di ko nga po lubos maisip kung paanong naatim ng mga pasimuno nito ang makinabang sa pagdurusa ng ating mga kababayan,” (More that P18 billion would have been wasted playing with mud in that so-called dredging project. I cannot understand how this project’s proponents could have willingly profited from the suffering of our countrymen.)

Aquino should be eating his words now.

After four years of litigation, the World Bank’s International Center for Investment Disputes (ICSID) last week handed down its decision, practically telling Aquino that he was either lying or was grossly misinformed.

The arbitral court ordered the Philippine government to pay about P0.8 billion to the Belgian dredging firm Baagerwerken Decloedt En Zoon (BDZ) which filed the suit against Aquino’s sudden, unilateral cancellation of the project just a few months after he assumed office. Aquino had claimed that it was a midnight deal of his predecessor, and that it was ridden with graft – an allegation that Aquino failed in four years to produce an iota of evidence of. Not a single official or private person has been accused of graft in connection with the project.

Real cost
The real cost to our nation will be so gargantuan that the P0.8 billion would seem peanuts. Because of Aquino’s incompetence, we do not have any project in the pipeline to dredge Laguna de Bay, which means that floodwaters that are intended to be siphoned from the streets by the pumping stations and flow through waterways can’t empty into the lake, as it has become shallow to take in more waters. If Aquino had not cancelled the project, Laguna Lake would have been dredged by end-2012.

BLAME HIM: Laguna Lake waters flooding SLEX August 2013.

The waters would therefore flow back and flood metro Manila, and even spill into the nearby towns of Laguna – as it did in August 2013 after four days of rain. Even the South Luzon Expressway was flooded then by the typhoon, cutting off the southern provinces from the center of the nation.

It was that deluge that apparently made Aquino remember that he had canceled the project that would have prevented such flooding and that he did not have his own infrastructure plan to replace it. He ordered the Department of Public Works and Highways to rush to formulate the replacement, called the Laguna Lakeshore Expressway-Dike Project.

Aquino’s project would cost P123 billion, seven times the Belgian dredging enterprise he cancelled. One main reason for this much higher cost is that, aside for its dredging component, it would have a 47-kilometer toll expressway. Why did it have to have this component?

The Aquino project could not expect any foreign funding for the enterprise, unlike the Belgian project. In fact, European nations and Japan practically blacklisted the Philippines as a recipient of similar funding for infrastructure projects because of Aquino’s unilateral cancellation of the Lake project.

With no foreign funding expected, Aquino naively thought that private companies under the so-called Public-Private Partnership Program (PPP) would totally finance the enterprise, and who would expect to get back their money plus profits from future toll collections from the expressways. I was told that Aquino’s business cronies told him that the project would be attractive if the firms that will build it would also be paid through the land beside the lake that would be reclaimed through the soil dredged from it.

Biggest PPP project
Aquino boasted in his 5th SONA in July 2014, that the Laguna Lakeshore Expressway-Dike project would be the biggest PPP project ever, and under his watch. In his last SONA in July 2015, he bragged the project will start by December.

Only in his mind. The bidding was called only in March the next year. No consortium made a bid, so the project has been officially terminated. All the media reports that there was keen interest among companies for the i project turned out to be sheer hype. Roman Azanza, spokesman for one of the consortium, said the project’s features were “too complex with too many issues unresolved by government”. Ramon Ang, the president of San Miguel Corp. that led another consortium said the project was not viable.

The two were just being polite. Sources in the consortia that studied the project said that the project “looked like something a just-graduated college student prepared”, and was “naively ambitious”. Not only that, another executive pointed out that elementary legal issues seemed to have been forgotten by Aquino’s officials, such as the fact that the Philippine Reclamation Authority had to authorize the reclamation components of the project, and the Laguna Lake Development Authority has absolute jurisdiction over the Lake, not the DPWH.

President Duterte hasn’t said a word on what he will do to dredge Laguna de Bay. I bet he will be told about it only when floods inundate metropolitan Manila and Laguna towns, when he instead will be subject of the P-word he loves saying.

Showing only that he really doesn’t know what the project is about, Public Works Secretary Mark Villar blurted a few days after he was appointed to the post: “I think they were not able to finish it [bidding of Laguna Lakeshore]. There are some minor issues [but]I think it’s doable. “

We will be lucky if a viable Laguna Lake rehabilitation project can be formulated in a year’s time, and the project completed in five years.

What an unlucky country. The suffering of Filipinos in metropolitan Manila and towns near the lake will be immeasurable if the areas are again flooded, and the cost of the disruption in agriculture and industry will be in hundreds of billions – because of the idiocy and arrogance of a spoiled brat that became our President just because he was an Aquino.