Challenge: Redeem old glory!
CTALK - Cito Beltran (The Philippine Star) - March 20, 2019 - 12:00am

After accepting and successfully overcoming “The Boracay Challenge” and going further by launching their “Battle for Manila Bay,” here is a challenge for the dynamic duo of President Rodrigo Duterte and DENR Secretary Roy Cimatu: Redeem the glory of Laguna De Bay into a sustainable freshwater resource and world class recreation and tourism destination. Laguna De Bay is the largest and nearest water source that is within the boundary of Metro Manila and is well worth the effort and logistics to clean it up.

For starters, why rely on remotely located, high investment dams to store and supply water for Metro Manila when God already gave us this huge lake right in our backyard. According to Congressman Bayani “BF” Fernando who is an engineer and former secretary of the DPWH, the lake is so huge that it will only lower by 30cm or a foot deep to supply Metro Manila’s current deficit. Congressman Ruffy Biazon on the other hand sees Laguna De Bay as a high potential tourism and recreation destination that can generate more employment and income compared to the few jobs and measly income generated from fish pens that pollute and obstruct the waterways of Laguna De Bay.

It is high time for the President and Secretary Cimatu to call in the officers of the Laguna Lake Development Authority and require an accounting or presentation of what real development they have managed to achieve in the lake, aside from monitoring and collecting fees from fish cage owners and shoreline eateries. Yes we need aquaculture to supply food but they should not be the only group making a profit at the lake’s expense. They should also call to task all the local government officials who have in one way or another allowed or led the illegal acquisition of land or construction of buildings along the lake, not to mention illegal pipes draining waste material into the lake. Don’t just save the lake, develop it like they did with Lake Caliraya!

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Given our recent drought with Manila Water, the most sensible thing to do is to build as many dams and reservoirs as possible and make sure that we collect as much rain and runoff water as we can. But because we are in the Philippines, focus tends to be on the political or the controversial. After Manila Water managed to restore some order and predictability with their water distribution, the focus has started to shift on what is beginning to be “the controversial Kaliwa Dam project.” Controversial because on the surface there is the suggestion that the project is an example of “China” getting preferential treatment and “someone entering on behalf of the Government, into a contract or transaction manifestly and grossly disadvantageous to the Philippines.” That last part is lifted from the Anti Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, Paragraph 3, section G.

GUDC or Global Utility Development Corp., an Osaka-based firm, was the first to make the unsolicited proposal to build the Kaliwa Dam project, a seven-meter high dam on Kaliwa River in Tanay, Rizal for $410 million. But that proposal was sidelined by the government in preference to a bid by the Chinese government to build a 73-meter high dam at a cost of $800 million. If you stick strictly to powerpoint presentations it would seem that a $400 million price difference is grossly overpriced. However there is a huge difference between a seven-meter high dam versus a 73-meter high dam. What’s weird is that the seven meter high dam has an estimated capacity of 550 million liters while the China dam that will cost twice the price is only larger by 50 million liters in capacity or 600 Mld. That’s still a lot of water but at twice the price it does not make sense.

Another slight difference is the claim that the Japanese proposal will be fully funded by Japanese Official Development Assistance while the Chinese are only willing to cover 80 percent via ODA with the project costing twice as much. In terms of safety and environment, a 73-meter high dam generally scares environmentalists and safety engineers in terms of natural disasters that can occur through a major earthquake. 

Just as “controversial” is the fact that foreign entities will be building and running vital utilities especially at a time when China has a foothold on our power grids nationwide and will soon be a major player as the 3rd telecommunications provider.

It is worrisome to think that while the current administration is pushing things through their motto “Build, Build, Build!” there is the distinct possibility that the next or some future administration will be chanting “Sue, Sue and Send them to jail!”  

The current MWSS Administrator Reynaldo Velasco tried to explain away the Kaliwa dam issue by saying: “This has been bid. It cannot be further delayed. The government has committed and signed. This is a done deal.” Our recent legal history however teaches us that every time there is a change of government, the previous officers from undersecretary and below spend an average of three years in court, while Cabinet secretaries burn six years to clear their name or stay out of jail.

While we are honor-bound to respect contractual obligations, officials in the Duterte administration and members of Congress and the Senate are all duty-bound to carefully review whether or not the deal with the Chinese builders are advantageous and beneficial to the government of the Philippines and the safety of local residents. Only time will tell if the emerging Kaliwa dam controversy will transform into graft charges and court cases, but from the looks of it, the GUDC officials are not simply walking away or staying quiet, as a result the media has picked up the story. This will be another election issue and ultimately a legal liability for all the government officials directly or indirectly involved.

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Email: utalk2ctalk@gmail.com

MANILA BAY RODRIGO DUTERTE
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