Murky argument

THE best argument for dredging Laguna de Bay was the onslaught of the twin disasters Ondoy and Pepeng, when the lake rose 14 meters and flooded 15 towns and cities in Laguna in addition to large areas of Rizal and the National Capital Region (NCR).

This is the reason why many local officials of Laguna are rejecting the demand of Jan de Nul, a Belgian company, for President Aquino to dump the P18.7-billion project.

We agree that the longer we footdrag in making Laguna de Bay deeper and more hospitable to fish and navigation in addition to providing potable water for the consumers of Maynilad Water, the more we court disaster.

Strangely, the proponent of the dredging project is also a Belgian company that conducted a scientific study of the 94,900-hectare lake and concluded that it could be navigable and hold more water to prevent disasters in Metro Manila if it is dredged and rid of more than 9.84 million cubic meters of silt.

Baggerwerken Decloedt En Zoon (BDC) worked on the project for several years and it should not be penalized for its industry and foresight.

Jan de Nul did not do its job of meeting the challenge of BDC, which submitted its proposal to the government while the other company was roosting elsewhere.

It would be bad for the Philippine government to dump the BDC project, which has already employed a number of expert dredgers from this country and put in all its equipment in place to work for 850 days in clearing up the lake.

To be precise, BDC submitted its unsolicited proposal under the Swiss Challenge system, which requires a competitor to submit another bid, perhaps a better one, to beat the corporate adversary.

Jan de Nul did not submit a counterproposal and never tried to match the creativity and savvy of BDC in getting the Laguna de Bay project on stream.

BDC apparently secured the financial support of the Belgian government under its super subsidy program and this is the reason why this component comprises more than 30 percent of the funding requirement of the project and would thus be covered by official development assistance (ODA).

Other projects funded by foreign governments had lower rates of official assistance but nonetheless ended up being covered by the ODA Law and not by the Government Procurement Act.

Jan de Nul calls for public bidding for the project but that is not within the purview of the Swiss Challenge or projects under ODA Law.

The project had been approved by the National Economic Development Authority (NEDA), the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) and the Department of Finance (DOF).

Moreover, the Department of Justice (DOJ) issued an opinion that the project was covered by ODA Law and should not be under the scrutiny of the board looking into government procurements.

This opinion stands even as Jan de Nul is seeking a reversal in its frenzied bid to stop the project.

We should lend an ear to companies that lose business opportunities by their indolence and unwise decisions.

They only have themselves to blame for losing projects. The government of the Republic of the Philippines was not created to cater to their whims.


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