Whatever happened to the P18.6-billion Laguna Lake Rehabilitation Project (LRP) that was supposed to solve the growing problems of flooding and pollution at Luzon’s largest freshwater lake?
It’s no secret that in many communities fringing Laguna de Bay, flooding during the rainy season has become part of life.
In recent years, however, these communities now experience flooding that lasts for weeks, even months.
Last year, after typhoons Karding and Paeng ravaged through Laguna province, coastal communities in the cities of Biñan, San Pedro and Santa Rosa once again experienced knee-deep floods that took months to recede.
Local government officials had, at one point, claimed that they have done all they could to mitigate the flooding in the coastal communities along Laguna de Bay.
“National government na po ang kailangang umaksyon para matugunan ang problemang ito,” Biñan City Mayor Arman Dimaguila was quoted as saying last year after typhoon Paeng.
Which brings the question: Whatever happened to the P18.6-billion Laguna Lake Rehabilitation Project (LRP) that was supposed to solve the growing problems of flooding and pollution at Luzon’s largest freshwater lake?
That was the question posed by Rep. Dan Fernandez of Santa Rosa City recently at the recent deliberation of House Resolution No. 376 last March 16.
H.R. 376, filed before the Committee on Ecology chaired by Biñan City Representative Len Alonte, seeks to revisit the P18.7 billion LRP, one of the biggest (and most controversial) projects of the administration of former President and now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
In his speech during the hearing, Fernandez emphasized the need to re-examine the scrapped project, due particularly on the lake’s potential as a floodwater reservoir and a source of potable water supply.
He noted that the subsequent projects fielded during the administrations of former presidents Benigno Aquino III and Rodrigo Duterte – the latest of which is the Laguna Lakeshore Road Network (LLRN) – failed to consider the need for dredging Laguna de Bay, one of the key components of the LRP.
"Unfortunately po, yung factor ng dredging na kung saan iyon po ang pinakapuso ng LRP, ay hindi po nakapaloob doon. And I was frustrated because the very reason we fought for the LRP noong panahon ni former President Benigno Aquino III is the capacity factor of Laguna Lake," Fernandez bared.
The project originally started in 2010 under the Arroyo administration, when it entered into a dredging contract with Belgian firm Baggerwerken Decloedt En Zoon (BDC) to dredge 94,900 hectares of Laguna de Bay.
The project was crafted to deepen its average depth of 2.5 meters, and called for the creation of navigational channels in the waterway, which has Class C water quality deemed to be inappropriate for human consumption.
As pointed out by experts (which Fernandez cited), the Laguna de Bay cannot be a source of water for purification, since its average depth is 2.5 meters, well below the global standard of a minimum of 2.8 meters depth for harvesting water for purification.
However, President Aquino scrapped the project in 2011, a year after he succeeded Arroyo as president.
Fernandez' resolution said Aquino’s reason for junking the project was because it was done
“in haste without scientific studies, that it was one of the ‘midnight deals’ of the outgoing Arroyo administration and that, at least impliedly, corruption attended its award.”
Business Mirror said not even a plea by King Albert, then King of Belgium, could defer Aquino from scrapping the project as he called it “merely transferring the silt from one part of the lake to another.”
Thus, BDC sued the Aquino administration for breach of contract before the International Center for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) in 2011.
In February 2017, the ISCID ruled in favor of BDC and ordered the national government to pay P800 million in damages to the Belgian company.
Solutions to flooding
Fernandez noted that the cancellation of the project left the government with no solutions to address flooding in Metro Manila, and other areas in Luzon like Laguna and wasting the potential of Laguna Lake as the largest inland body of water in Southeast Asia.
Aside from being a floodwater reservoir, these potentials include the lake as a source of potable water supply, fisheries, transport route (such as Laguna Lakeshore Road Network Project), power generation, recreation, and irrigation.
He deemed it “imperative, more than ever, to explore once again the question of whether or not to dredge and rehabilitate Laguna de Bay and under what conditions.”
The deliberations revealed that government agencies such as the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA), Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH), Laguna Lake Development Authority (LLDA), and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources are on board to revisit such projects.
Representatives from the provincial government of Laguna and LGUs within also expressed support.
Ronnel Arambulo from PAMALAKAYA, an activist alliance of fisherfolk, has expressed reservations on dredging projects citing the negative impacts on their livelihood such as disturbance of marine life, restricting fisherfolks from fishing on dredging zones, pollution, and opportunities for privatization.
Arambulo, however, emphasized that they support rehabilitation efforts for the lake and says that they are the “tunay na tagapagsulong ng rehabilitasyon.”
The deliberation ended by creating a Technical Working Group chaired by Fernandez to discuss further the deliberated projects.
(With report by James Veloso)