By Gerry Albert Corpuz, Ma. Leonora Theresa Azcarraga and Himala dela Cuesta
MANILA, PHILIPPINES- Leaders of the left-leaning fisherfolk alliance Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya) and the umbrella group Save Laguna Lake Movement (SLLM) on Friday claimed victory over the cancelation of the controversial P 18.7 B Laguna Lake dredging contract.
The Laguna Lake based groups had led the opposition against the dredging project which was previously inked during the administration of then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and had also asked the House of Representatives with the help of Anakpawis party list Rep. Rafael Mariano who sponsored a house resolution urging the concerned committees to undertake congressional inquiry on the lake dredging project.
“The victory belongs to the fisherfolk and the people of Laguna Lake. Their collective resolve to stop this shotgun piece of public-private partnership project is the decisive element behind the cancelation of the project. We ask President Benigno Simeon Aquino III to serve the notice of cancelation with finality and refrain from resurrecting this project in the near future,” Pamalakaya national chair Fernando Hicap and SLLM convener Pedro Gonzalez said in a joint statement.
The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) officially canceled the P 18.7 B supply contract with Baggerwerken Cloedt En Zoon (BDC), a Belgian dredging contractor. In a Dec.7 letter addressed to Dimitry Dutilleux, area manager of BDC, environment secretary Ramon Paje said President Aquino has approved the cancellation of the supply contract between the DENR and BDC last Dec. 5.
“The national government and the DENR have no choice but to cancel the dredging deal which is not only tainted with irregularities but also checkered with dangers of killing people’s livelihood and environment. Mr. Aquino and Mr. Paje really have no option but to score a giant kill against the P 18.7 B dredging contract, nothing more, nothing less,” Hicap and Gonzalez said.
Pamalakaya and SLLM said the cancellation of the P 18.7 B contract should not proceed with the Filipino taxpayers paying $ 10 million to BDC for the junking of contract, as previously asked by the Belgian contractor.
“We should not pay 10 million US dollars to BDC because the contract is junked. That would be unfair to the Filipino people and to the fisherfolk of Laguna Lake. It is tantamount to betrayal of national interest if the Aquino government pays 10 million American dollars to BDC. That is not acceptable, period, period, period,” the groups added.
Likewise Pamalakaya and SLLM slammed the 27-member countries of the European Union (EU) after a report said the Belgian government, which the current president of EU is planning to stop importation of coconut oil from the Philippines in connection with the scrapping of the P 18.7 B Laguna Lake dredging project.
Belgium is the biggest importer of Philippine coconut oil according to the United Coconut Associations in the Philippines (UCAP) Incorporated. According to UCAP, the coconut oil industry became the first casualty of the decision of President Aquino to junk the P 18.7 B Laguna Lake dredging project.
It said the decision might push the Belgian government to stop importing coconut oil from the Philippines, and that will spoil the momentum of this industry which is expected to reach 3 million metric tons in total exportation for 2010 which is 12 percent higher last year.
“Frankly my dear we don’t give a damn if Belgian government desists and ceases from importing coconut oil. It is their loss not ours. We can have our coconut oil and explore this agriculture product for the benefit of 94 million Filipinos,” Pamalakaya and SLLM argued.
A report said the Belgian foreign ministry has summoned the Philippine ambassador to Belgium to demand explanation why President Aquino cancelled the P 18.7 B contract for the dredging of the 94,900 hectare lake.
Earlier, Laguna Gov. E.R Ejercito appealed to the Aquino government to negotiate with China for the funding of the ambitious dredging project that will cost the Philippine government P 20-billion per year or P 100-B in five year period. But Pamalakaya dismissed the move as classic act of desperation.
According to Pamalakaya, Laguna Lake is a home to 6 million people according to the latest population survey conducted by the national government. Around 2 million are living in the immediate surroundings and lake shore of Laguna de Bay.
Co-existing with the 6 million people are the 23 fresh water fishes and the 10 salt water fish species and the 26 types of lake-water based plants which regularly provide direct and immediate livelihood to 100,000 fishing families in Laguna Lake.
The yearly fish production in Laguna Lake through fish capture and fish culturing (fish pens and fish cages) amount to 410,000 metric tons which supplies the fish food needs of more than 10 million people in Metro Manila.
“The dredging project if not terminated or stopped will affect the fish and food production capacity of Laguna Lake and this will create a major fish and food crisis for the people of Laguna Lake and the National Capital Region and will affect the livelihood of more than 100,000 fishing families sourcing their livelihood directly from lake resources,” Pamalakaya said.
“The P 18.7 billion dredging project is also an environmental catastrophe in the making. The sorry state of Laguna Lake reveals it is already in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) and allowing project like this which has no scientific proven basis will fast-track the death of the 94,000 hectare lake,” Pamalakaya added.