Belgium, Philippines to discuss scrapped Laguna lake project

By Mia M. Gonzalez, Business Mirror

Posted at Apr 11 2011 08:27 AM | Updated as of Apr 11 2011 04:27 PM

High-level discussions are under way between the Philippines and Belgium on the P18.7-billion Laguna Lake Rehabilitation Project after Belgian Prime Minister Yves Leterme wrote President Aquino to express his support for a “mutually agreeable solution” that would allow the project to proceed, Malacañang said.

Secretary Ramon Carandang ofthe Presidential Communications Development and Strategic Planning Office according to Mr. Aquino, the foreign ministers of the two countries will be discussing the matter, in response to Leterme’s letter.

Carandang made the statement when asked about Mr. Aquino’s reply to Leterme’s letter, first published in BusinessMirror’s About Town column of Ernesto Hilario on March 21.

“He said that the foreign ministers will talk,” Carandang said, when asked for Mr. Aquino’s comment on the letter dated March 16, 2011.

In his letter to Mr. Aquino, Leterme said he had been informed of the technical and environmental concerns of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources of the Philippines about the implementation of the Laguna Bay Project, which Mr. Aquino ordered canceled last year.

Leterme said that “upon advice of my minister of foreign affairs, the Belgian contractor for the project, BDC [Baggerwerken Decloedt & Zoon], has appointed an expert of international renown to evaluate the technical qualities of the project and to investigate how all concerns can be met.”

“As I understand from the report of this expert, which is enclosed, the project can be an undeniable improvement for the Metro Manila area and alleviate flooding, improve local transport infrastructure and increase water capacity,” Leterme said.

He told Mr. Aquino that he “would like to express my strongest support to come to a mutually agreeable solution for both parties” and that “my services, my minister of foreign affairs and I are available at any time to further discuss this matter with you.”

In his letter, Leterme also noted that the Philippines and Belgium had initialed in January a Joint Plan of Action, “which is an important step in identifying fields of interest where both countries can further enhance relations and bilateral cooperation.”

Carandang said when Mr. Aquino decided to cancel the project, it was based, among others, on “questions about whether or not that will serve the purpose that it was intended for.”

“It’s cost-benefit. It might help, but is it going to be worth P18 billion? So there’s the technical aspects of the project, whether or not it will actually be delivered as we were led to expect, and there are questions about whether the process was actually followed strictly. Those are the issues that went into the decision,” he said.

But Carandang said “if the Belgians feel very strongly that there could be some value to it, then we would certainly listen to what they have to say.”

“I think we owe it to the Belgian government to at least hear them out. But as of now, the decision hasn’t changed....The decision stays unless they can convince us otherwise,” Carandang said.

He said so far, “there’s been no indication that we will change our minds at this point.”

BDC has maintained that the Philippine government should honor its contract, since there has been no official letter of project cancellation stating the reasons for scrapping the project, which seeks to dredge Laguna Lake.