By MARVYN N. BENANING
MANILA, Philippines — A Belgian firm is seeking P4 billion in damages from the Philippine government after suing it for scrapping the P18.7-billion Laguna Lake Rehabilitation Project (LLRP).
The P4-billion damage suit filed by Baggerwerken Decloedt en Zoon (BDC) threw a monkey wrench at the P400-billion Laguna Lake Master Plan (LLMP) that Malacañang wants to implement over 20 years.
BDC executives said the company waited since April, 2011 for the Palace to respond to the offer for renegotiations by the Belgian government but said “Malacañang did not respond formally and neither did it explain why it was scrapping the project.”
The complaint against the government was firmed up as early as May, 2011 but BDC waited for what had been dubbed as the “final study” on the project by Malacañang but nothing came out of it.
BDC officials reached for comment confirmed the filing of the suit before the International Center for the Settlement of Investments Disputes (ICSID) in Washington, D. C., the very same forum that decided against the Philippines in three of five suits lodged before it.
With the suit, it would be hard for the Aquino government to pursue the LLMP, which has 54 sub-projects that include the construction of 100-kilometer road dike from Taytay, Rizal to the last town of Laguna, eco-tourism ventures, the clearing of navigational channels, impounding dams for rivers and creeks that drain into the 94,900-hectare lake, reclamation of 5,000 hectares of foreshore areas for industrial and commercial centers, and even an international airport.
Much of the funding for the LLMP, as envisioned by the Palace, would come from the Public Private Partnership (PPP) program that has not attracted investments from the 27-member European Union (EU), whose envoys had urged an amicable settlement of the dispute.
Originally, BDC wanted to demand damages of P6 billion from the government but this was scaled down to P4 billion, aside from the P500 million due from the Pasig River Rehabilitation Project (PRRP) that BDC completed two months ahead of schedule.
Eleven days ago, a top BDC official who spoke on condition of anonymity said the company was open to reconfiguring the LLRP but said the government must communicate officially with the company.
As in the past, what BDC knew about the government position came by way of press briefings by Budget Secretary Florencio “Butch” Abad and presidential spokesmen.
There was nothing in black and white, the Belgian executive said, and the company cannot act on the basis of press statements and not official communication.