One night in Bangkok
One of the highlights enjoyed by motoring journalists invited to the Bangkok Motor Show is the automotive host's requisite dinner on a boat cruising the Chao Phraya River. From there one can just imagine, with envy, how our own urban rivers can also function as a cargo and passenger highway, promenade of luxury residences, a peep at how Royals live, flood management tool and a moving sensual feast for the eyes, instead of a squalid stinking trash heap that is best air-brushed out of "fun in the Philippines" promotional posters.
Most of us are no strangers to enjoying the view from a Rhine cruiser or a circumnavigational drive around picturesque alpine lakes. Moreover, in picturesque cities and ancient towns, the most expensive real estate is usually along the lakeshore or river bank drive. This is why many of the new urban residential developments in China's top growing new cities have man-made lakes as the focus or backdrop of its landscape.
Bodies of water serve tourism, transport and industry. They are at their most pristine when they are un-touched, undiscovered. When enterprising pioneers discover rivers and lakes, it is mostly to find a cheap base for enterprise. If discovered for leisure, the more green minded lobby to declare the area as a nature reserve to keep it away from the dirty hands of commerce and industry.
Once upon a time
Fishing as livelihood along the shores of Laguna de Bay, at one time, happily co-existed with coastal resort towns that featured springs with curative waters and religious artifacts. But congestion and uncontrolled development ensued and along with it the detritus and muck of upstream industrialization and residential sewerage, fed by tributary rivers.
Earlier in the administration of President Aquino, the DPWH and DENR were collaborating on a P400B 220km baywalk, a 100km long 4m high Mega dike and road from Taytay, Rizal to the Northern boundary of Laguna province around Laguna de Bay. Dredged silt from the 100km area will be used to create 4 gridlocks where a new government center will rise on reclaimed land as part of the Lakeshore Park Development program. This undertaking was to give rise to 54 other subsidiary projects like ferry jetties and even a cable car connecting Taytay to Mt. Makiling, passing Talim island and Mt. Caliraya.
This plan was pushed forward when the Government, at the urging of the PAMALAKAYA [Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas] and SLLM [Save Laguna Lake Movement] cancelled the P18.7-billion Laguna Lake Rehabilitation Project (LLRP) as it would displace the livelihood of some 300,000 fisherfolk and their families. LLRP was to be undertaken by BDC [Baggerwerken Decloedt en Zoon], a 150 year old Belgian dredging expert which successfully completed the Pasig River Rehabilitation Project (PRRP) two months ahead of schedule in September 2010.
The cancellation of the contract with BDC may cost the government 4B if it loses in the case filed at the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) in Washington D.C. of the World Bank Group. The government is also being sued for not paying P500m due to BDC after finishing the PRRP. Things were not helped when both DoF and BOI threatened to investigate the Belgian firm for doing business in the Philippines. We wouldn't be surprised if our country is on its way to being blacklisted as a shyster, reneging on paying for done deals. We've already annoyed the Germans with NAIA 3 and the French with the modular Ro-ros.
To the misfortune of the 300,000 or as some allege, 3.9 million including dependents, Laguna de Bay has long been overdue for dredging since the Seventies, a time when there were surely not that many fisherfolk living along the lakeshore and its tributaries. At today's average depth of 2.5m, the 94,000ha. lake is turning into a cesspool and even the big water utilities are postponing projects to tap the lake for water recycling. Judging by the last few years experience, Laguna de Bay has already been the source of flooding instead of playing its time honored role of providing relief from the flood waters cascading from the high ground and city rivers surrounding it.
Too little, too late?
Perhaps it was the misfortune of BDC that it contracted the dredging project during the previous administration, making it instantly suspect to the incoming administration. Whatever the case may be, it would have been fair if the LLRP project was clarified from the onset, particularly how and if the fisherfolk would lose their livelihood. Or is dredging being construed as a squatter clearing operation too? It is no secret that along many urban bodies of water, squatters, are the cause of flooding all around the country? They also block access to routine dredging of natural siltation. Would the dredging of Laguna de Bay necessarily kill the fish pen industry or dislocate it elsewhere, hopefully to a more sustainable part within the lake itself?
300k, 3.9M or 15M?
Whether it is the LLRP project or the DPWH-DENR ring dike and Lakeshore Park Development, it would seem that any project that would displace the fisherfolk families, who are usually the victims of seasonal floods, will outright be rejected as not in the interest of saving Laguna lake and PAMALAKAYA's members. Unless it is already a given entitlement to these cause oriented groups, shouldn't the 15 million people of Metro Manila and the affected half of CALABARZON region also have a say in this? It cannot be denied that Laguna de Bay is part of the Metro-Calabarzon eco-system, floods, pollution and all. Perhaps project proponents have to reach out to these affected stakeholders.Then the Laguna Lake projects, be it a ring dike or dredging or both, should be repackaged as a PPP. But to do nothing and let the lake turn into a vast flood prone sewer of a lake should not be an option.
Enjoy the view?
Along with the MMDA's Skybridge proposal hovering over the San Juan River, these river bank/lake shore projects present an opportunity to either return the banks/shore to its ecological beginnings or gentrify them to lifestyle standards we see in many successful urban centers abroad. All through the years, some of our countrymen have treated rivers and lakes as a backyard to hide and dump trash while their eyesore lean to's face the road, conveniently covering up what's left of the scenery.
Flagship flood control
In the Ramos Administration, projects like the above were called Flagship projects. It was heartening to see President Aquino himself take the lead in Flood management projects after he returned from his successful trip abroad at the commencement of the rainy season. President Aquino's administration is creating a 22B metro-wide flood management master plan to be implemented in 2 to 3 years time. 9B is allotted for retarding basins and dredging of the Pasig river to prevent overflowing of the river banks. 13B is allocated for the Marikina River Dam which serves to retard the on rush of flood waters upstream from the mountain. This master plan is integrated with the on going Pasig-Marikina River Channel Improvement project. Perhaps it is not too late to integrate and add a new and doable LLRP that satisfy all Filipinos and not just lakeshore LGUs, PAMALAKAYA and SLLM. The ecological and flood prone condition of Laguna de Bay is inseparable from the overall environment and flood management of Metro Manila and half of Calabarzon. Whereas I wouldn't want to jump in that lake, but it would, at least, be nice to be able to drive around it.