Belgian firm howls

In what may lead to a big diplomatic headache for President Aquino, the Belgian Ambassador Christian Meerschman belied a Palace announcement that PNoy had talked to the envoy to convey the reasons why the P18.7-billion Laguna Lake Rehabilitation Project (LLRP) was being dumped.

Curtly, the envoy said he never talked with Aquino about the project, and this may well tell on just how serious the President is handling matters as delicate as the LLRP, which is now also the focus of attention by the European Chamber of Commerce in the Philippines (ECCP.)

Being the diplomat that he is, Meerschman still waxed optimistic that the matter could be settled even as the Belgian government has been miffed by the unilateral cancellation of a contract signed by Baggerwerken Decloedt En Zoon (BDC) and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR.)

The country has more to gain if the project pushes through, diplomatic circles have intimated, since Belgium is the current president of the 27-member European Union (EU) and the Philippines had signed an investment treaty with the Belgo-Luxembourg Economic Union that protected investments by the two parties.

This treaty had been in force for more than a decade, and it opened the latchdoor for Belgians to do more business in the country.

However, BDC and the Belgian government could not understand why a project like LLRPO could be cancelled through a press release from the Palace and not through a formal notice. It smacks of arrogance and uncouth behavior, a lawyer remarked. The Belgians want a formal notice of cancellation, not a press release, but the Palace has not sent any to the company.

Dimitry Detilleux, BDC area manager for North Asia, says the company had acted in good faith to win the project, for which it had already spent P400 million, but the other contracting party apparently has other things in mind.

Detilleux is open to conciliation but the door is not shut to international arbitration, something with Fraport did as regards the Terminal 3 project at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) that gave the Arroyo administration a black eye in Singapore and in Germany.

Many people like Gil Navarro of the Kilusang Lawa Kalikasan (KLK) want the project to be implemented since he and other people in Laguna and Rizal would benefit from a deeper lake with a bigger water holding capacity. What it means is fewer floods and more than ample supply of raw water for concessionaires.

Aquino is standing pat on his decision, apparently made on his 100th day in office, and Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima had confirmed the country would pay the commitment fees for the loan, which enjoys the guarantee of the Belgian government.

Detractors have had a field day bashing the Belgians for the aborted project but for Navarro and company, it means an opportunity lost to revive a practically dead lake.

Dean Abraham Espejo says the government should not have scrapped a valid contract and former UP College of Law Dean Froilan Bacungan adds that the executive agreement stands since the contract is the law between the parties.

Former Senator Francisco “Kit” Tatad insists the unilateral scrapping was unacceptable and calls for a more sensible handling of the matter, not by the Palace but by the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA). Joel Paredes

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