Fisherfolk and urban poor residents lambasted the Aquino administration for turning a blind eye on their rights and demands as it pushes for the grand sell out of Laguna Lake.
By DENNIS ESPADA
MANILA — The Laguna Lake Expressway Dike (LLED), regarded as President Benigno Simeon Aquino III’s biggest “flagship” project to date under his administration’s Public-Private Partnership (PPP) Program, is not an easy deal, especially with the fact that it involves P122.8 billion ($2.728 billion) of taxpayer’s money.
Last October, the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH), the project’s main implementing agency, has extended the submission of pre-qualifying bids to build the massive infrastructure in favor of big local and multi-national corporations.
The list of interested bidders includes GT Capital Holdings Inc., Ayala Land, Megaworld, Metro Pacific Tollways Corp., Minerales Industrias Corp., Leighton Contractors Inc., JV Power and Wealth Corp., LT Group, Laguna Lakeshore Consortium, Filinvest Land, San Miguel Corp., Megawide Construction Corp., Aboitiz Equity Ventures Inc., Minerales Industrias Corp., JG Summit Holdings Inc. and State Properties Corp. Foreign investors, meanwhile, include Malaysia’s Muhibbah Engineering Corp., MTD-Hanshin-VistaLand Consortium and Vinci Concessions; France’s Egis Projects S.A.; Australia’s Macquarie Securities (Phils.) Inc. and India’s IL/FS Transportation Networks Ltd.
An alliance for the protection of the 90,000-hectare Laguna Lake against environmental destruction called Save Laguna Lake Movement (SLLM) said that while the government gives prospective investors more time to strategize in the bidding process, it blatantly shows no concern for the fisherfolk and urban poor residents who will be affected.
To demonstrate their call to junk the LLED and the PPP Program, SLLM members are continuously holding protest actions, sometimes in the form of fluvial parades. As they demand the authorities to secure their food, homes and future, they found allies among some Catholic bishops, including Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle, who signed their petition last September 1 to oppose the road dike-cum-reclamation project.
Alter floods, alternate routes
According to DPWH’s website as of August 25, the LLED has two major components: the construction of a 47-kilometer expressway dike along the lake’s shorelines from Taguig to Los Baños in Laguna, which is estimated to cost P64.9 billion; and the reclamation of 700 hectares of Taguig and Muntinlupa cities’ lakeshore areas, which is estimated to cost P57.9 billion ($1.286 billion).
Proposed alignment runs 500 meters away following the shoreline. The “flood control” facility will have a six-lane toll way and eight interchanges, including 16 bridges and pumping stations. The reclamation plan, on the other hand, seeks to create seven new islands—about 450 to 500 meters wide and 15.6 kilometers long—where new commercial and residential areas will be developed.
The project’s objectives include to: “relieve the heavily travelled Bicutan-Calamba corridor (South Luzon Expressway and Manila South Road)” and “serve as an alternate to the congested road of the National Highway from Calamba to Los Baños”.
In addition: “The expressway will be used to integrate a flood control system to protect the flood prone areas located along the shore of Laguna Lake” particularly business establishments, factories and households situated in low-lying communities.
With the Laguna Lake Development Authority (LLDA) as its cooperating agency, the DPWH promises economic benefits such as “savings in vehicle operating costs”, “savings in passenger time”, “reduction in flood damages”, “increase in land productivity in existing communities due to flood protection”, and “increase in land productivity (value added) in the reclamation area”.
The DPWH targets to bid out the project under the Build-Operate-Transfer law before the end of the year and complete its construction within six years, starting on December 2015. The winning concessionaire will have the right to operate and maintain the facility from 2022 until 2051.
Disasters in disguise
In his state of the nation address last July, President Aquino cited the LLED as part of disaster preparedness efforts approved by the national government. He expressed the need for it after strong typhoons and heavy monsoon rains in 2012 and 2013 flooded several coastal communities in Laguna.
But, for residents who depend on the lake as their source of food and livelihood, the real issue behind the project is forced evictions and threats of violent demolitions. They point out the empty promises of lake-related “development” programs by past and current regimes, which failed to resolve year-round problems of hunger, famine and neglect, as enough proof to show the LLED will only bring further disasters to their lives.
Flor Chan, a member of SLLM who has been living in Biñan, Laguna for decades and earns an income through fishing, lamented: “We know that if this project pushes through, it is certain that we will be thrown out.”
Based on a document called “Laguna de Bay Basin 2020” by the LLDA, in Laguna the Aquino administration is planning to evict 6,800 families in barangay Malaban in Biñan and 4,800 families in barangay Sinalhan in Santa Rosa. At least 60,000 families situated in “Lupang Arenda” in barangay San Juan in Taytay, Rizal will also be evicted in addition to 10,440 more families that comprise a cluster of informal settlers along the shoreline. As “relocation cost”, it plans to shell out P200,000 ($4 thousand) per household or roughly P6.5 billion ($144 million) for 80,000 households.
Meanwhile, the SLLM revealed that the displaced people will only be offered, and have to rely on, something that Malacañang describes as “development and progress”—five million pesos worth of water hyacinths processing ventures.
Rogelio Arciaga, president of Kapisanan ng Samahang Mangingisda sa Muntinlupa (KASAMA-MU or Federation of Fisherfolk Associations in Muntinlupa), declared: “We prefer to have an income of 50 pesos per day rather than give us some easily consumable replacement value of our homes and livelihood on the lake.”
He believes the disadvantages of LLED are long-term and detrimental to the people compared to the so-called “economic benefits”. His group estimates the reclamation will displace more than 20,000 families in Muntinlupa alone.
“In order to really end poverty and hunger, the government must first look after its constituents and the interest of the basic masses, not of big foreign and big companies,” SLLM spokesperson Pedro “Ka Pido” Gonzales said in a statement. “They must provide the people jobs and ensure that our country’s heritage and resources are primarily enjoyed by our less fortunate countrymen.”