Fri. Jun 18th, 2021

If Corazon Aquino scrapped the Paranaque Spillway that would have served as the exhaust of excess waters accumulated by the efficient Marcos flood control system onto Laguna Lake, his son Benigno Simeon Aquino III stopped the dredging of Laguna Lake.

The mother as president offered the lame excuse that the real estate values in Paranaque have gone tremendously over the roof making its implementation near to impossible. To date, no plausible explanation has been provided by his son Noynoy why he as president junked the Belgian grant for the lake.

The only probable reason known to the public was Cory’s hate for Ferdinand Marcos and Noynoy’s hate for Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

For the meantime, hundreds of thousands of residents and trillions of public money and opportunities have been squandered by those decisions as the flooding has grown to what is now Mega Manila, including the entirety of Metro Manila and nearby provinces of Bulacan and Pampanga on the north and Laguna, Rizal and Cavite in the south.

Felino Palafox, a Filipino-internationally acclaimed Filipino urban planner and architect recently posted in his Facebook that “the most critical step in easing the extreme flooding of Metro Manila is the construction of the Parañaque Spillway, and the deepening and development of Laguna Lake.”

Palafox has been proposing these two critical projects since 1977. “Forty years after, only the Manggahan Floodway has been built. With this, Laguna Lake became a basin with 23 faucets without a drain” he said.

“During the Arroyo administration, right after the event of Typhoon Ondoy, the construction of the Parañaque Spillway almost pushed through. But sadly, because of the change in administration, it did not materialize. It suffered from analysis paralysis,” disgusted Palafox added.

Today as we put Typhoon Ulysses to the dustbin of our watery history, let us meditate on whether once and for all we will do something about this. We have P389 million to put dolomites on the Manila Bay Walk, but hardly do we have even a medium-term plan to save Mega Manila from drowning.

Spillway revival

In 2012, a bold proposal to resurrect the Paranaque Spillway project conceptualized in the 1970s was again submitted. The Japan International Cooperation Agency has submitted an updated report as of May 2018.

President Rodrigo Duterte or his successor must look into this neglected priority.

An underground spillway designed to speed up the flow of water from Laguna de Bay to Manila Bay can help ease the problem of excess rain waters coming from the highlands of the north passing through the Marikina River from backing up to the rest of Metro Manila and flooding in lakeshore communities.

The massive flood-control infrastructure built by President Marcos meant this waters to be impounded into Laguna Lake. His “Metro Plan” underscored a combination of the Napindan Hydrulic Control Structure, the Marikina Dam, the Marikina Fllod Control Structure, the Rosario Weir, the Maggahan Spillway and finally the Paranaque Spillway.

The Marcos flood-control composite.

The Napindan Structure, completed in 1983 at the confluence of Marikina and the Pateros-Taguig rivers with the Pasig River, prevents the increase of salinity from Manila Bay and pollution from the Pasig River from entering Laguna Lake.

The Rosario Weir, completed in 1984, is the sluice or floodgate that sends the waters of the Marikina River onto the Manggahan Floodway, completed in 1986 to diver the floodwaters out of Metro Manila and driving them back east onto Laguna Lake.

The last major project answers the question’ “what if the lake overflows?” That was what the Paranaque Spillway was all about.

It was scheduled to be started in 1986, the year Marcos was deposed and Corazon Aquino became president by virtue of an American-sponsored regime change.

Underground tunnel

The Laguna Lake Development Authority, however, said it would have to modify the design since a conventional spillway was no longer feasible given the dense population and urban buildup at the proposed site.

It has instead proposed the construction of an underground tunnel which is designed to allow up to 350 m³/s of water to be discharged from Laguna de Bay into Manila Bay.

Schematic view of the underground spillway.

The tunnel will be passing through a narrow neck of land (7.2 km) westward from a point near Sucat, Parañaque City on the shoreline of Laguna de Bay until Manila Bay.

DPWH will have a choice of one of three proposed locations. The one in the middle is 7.2 kms.

According to the study conducted by the LLDA Project Development and Monitoring Evaluation Division, water buildup in Laguna de Bay during typhoons can be much better controlled with the underground spillway. Without the project, the lake water level reduction is about 0.60 meters a month. This is expected to go up to 1.0 meter per month with the construction of the spillway, the agency said.

Then presidential adviser for environmental protection and LLDA general manager, Neric Acosta, said that the spillway should be done in combination with other measures to control flooding such as improved catchment management, creation of a floodplain storage in the Marikina catchment as well as the dredging of Pasig River, Napindan Channel and small tributaries surrounding the lake to ease water flow.

“We should look into a more long-term and holistic approach to flood control and disaster mitigation. This would involve rehabilitating the watershed through aggressive tree-planting, resettlement of households that are vulnerable to flooding, propagation of proper waste disposal through materials recovery facilities and the installation of a flood warning system,” he said.

Botched dredging

Six years after former President Benigno S. Aquino III scrapped the P18.7-billion Laguna Lake dredging project in 2011, the International Center for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) has ordered the Philippine government to pay P800 million to Baggerwerken Decloedt En Zoon (BDC).

The insane presaidential decision was made despite the deal being declared by then-Justice Secretary Leila M. de Lima as “legal and binding”. Former Justice Secretary Alberto Agra also issued a legal opinion affirming the validity of the contract entered into between BDC and the Arroyo administration through the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR.)

The BDC project was originally crafted to dredge the 94,900-hectare Laguna de Bay and 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.

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.

A Belgian company, BDC had designed the project under the official development assistance (ODA) scheme of Brussels and supported by then-Belgian King Albert, but former President Noynoy did not accede to the plea of the king to salvage the project, calling it as a project that calls for merely transferring the silt from one part of the lake to another.

BDC also worked on securing 37.4 percent of the funding from a Belgian export agency to enable it to be covered by Official Development Assistance (ODA) and secured additional financing from BNP Paribas.

Belgian executives calculated the P18.7-billion Laguna Lake Rehabilitation Plan could be paid in nine years, if the Laguna de Bay is dredged, its water-holding capacity expanded, and measures are implemented to improve the quality of water flowing from 100 rivers and creeks from the Sierra Madre, Quezon, Rizal, Cavite and Laguna, with the revenues coming from Manila Water Co. Inc. and Maynilad Water Services Inc.

ICSID took jurisdiction of the case, which was covered by an investment treaty among the Philippines, Belgium and Luxembourg signed in 1998, and invoked the applicable rules of the ICSID convention and arbitration rules on October 11, 2011.On January 23, 2017, the tribunal agreed with BDC, and said the 150-year-old Belgain dredging company was the aggrieved party.

BDC was compelled to sue the Aquino administration before ICSID in April 2011 for breaching its contract after all its efforts to push the project with Finance Secretary Cesar V. Purisima and President Aquino failed.

The company sought at least P6 billion in damages from the Aquino administration, the award in damages in favor of BDC settled at P800 million.

BDC officials said Aquino was wrong in tagging the project as “graft-ridden” and Sen. Franklin M. Drilon described dredging projects as a source of corruption during a year when Iloilo, his home province, had six dredging projects supported by state funds. Sen. Loren B. Legarda also described the dredging project as contributing to flooding, which floored BDC, its engineers and hydrologists.

The Aquino administration then did not explain to the Belgian government why the LLRP was scuttled despite the Belgian counterpart’s plea to let the project proceed.

BDC spent close to P400 million to undertake studies on the lake, including its water quality, its geology and geomorphology, the species still existing in the lake, and the social and economic impact of the LLRP.

Duterte clueless

My friend John Raña recommends corrective action: “The government should go after the personal assets of Noynoy Aquino for his unilateral, illegal and stupid scrapping of a valid contract. Why should the Filipino people suffer for his stupidity?”

I say the same goes for whatever Corazon Aquino has left behind.

Writing in his column last February 2017, former Ambassador Rigoberto Tiglao said, “President Duterte hasn’t said a word on what he will do to dredge Laguna de Bay. I bet he will be told about it only when floods inundate metropolitan Manila and Laguna towns, when he instead will be subject of the P-word he loves saying.

“Showing only that he really doesn’t know what the project is about, Public Works Secretary Mark Villar blurted a few days after he was appointed to the post: “I think they were not able to finish it [bidding of Laguna Lakeshore]. There are some minor issues [but]I think it’s doable. “

Tiglao said three years ago that we will be lucky if a viable Laguna Lake rehabilitation project can be formulated in a year’s time, and the project completed in five years.

The columnist said in anguish “What an unlucky country. The suffering of Filipinos in metropolitan Manila and towns near the lake will be immeasurable if the areas are again flooded, and the cost of the disruption in agriculture and industry will be in hundreds of billions – because of the idiocy and arrogance of a spoiled brat that became our President just because he was an Aquino.”

I call simply criminal negligence.

(To be continued. Next – clear and present dangers to environmental hazards in Mega Manila.)

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