Warned by road experts and journalists, bidding for the LLDEx PPP was delayed several times as the government tried to adjust the plans in order to accommodate the apprehensions of the prospective bidders. But as the pundits predicted, the DPWH bidding for the PPP of the LLDEx failed. How and why has it come to this?
The LLDEx PPP was the administration's replacement to the LLRP [Laguna Lake Rehabilitation Project] which it cancelled and even boasted about in the 2011 State of the Nation Address. Based on the rushed recommendation of some newbie appointee in the DoF [Department of Finance] perhaps blinded by this administration's obsessive suspicion of all contracts entered into by past administrations, the administration claimed that the PHP18.7B project was anomalous because it didn't go through bidding. The ignorant DoF functionary did not know that the LLRP was a Belgian ODA [Official Development Assistance] and as a Belgian government grant, local bidding does not apply. In fact, the PHP500M Pasig River Rehab, the 1st phase of the LLRP had already been completed ahead of schedule.
ODA's and ICSID
Like all ODA's, the Belgian grantee chose a Belgian company with 150 years in dredging experience -Baggerwerken Decloedt en Zoon (BDC). But despite the explanation of the Belgian government, the administration still stuck to its cancellation and even toughed it out threatening to throw Belgian investors out of the country. BDC promptly filed for arbitration at the ICSID [International Court of the Settlement of Investment Disputes] in Washington D.C. suing to recover some PHP6.0B in sunk costs and the PHP500M owed to them for finishing the Pasig River phase.
Saving the lake....
The LLRP is a long term government project which seeks to alleviate the annual flooding that lakeshore fisherfolk and informal settlers suffer every rainy season. LLRP also addresses the deteriorating health and hygiene environment of these lakeside settlements, who in turn blame upstream industrial waste sewerage that flow through tributaries and Pasig river, feeding into all 94,000ha of Laguna de Bay. Further along, the LLRP seeks to reverse the deteriorating biodiversity of the lake in order to sustain the fisherfolk's livelihood. Such a tall order needs heavy funding.
The irony of it all
In reality, the biggest hurdle to LLRP all through the years is not the lack of funding. The biggest obstacle, nay obstruction for any do-gooding for the Lake comes from the very people it seeks to relieve – the same lakeshore fisherfolk and informal settlers. If one were to believe the militant and vociferous pressure groups that represent a claimed 400,000 families, i.e. -SLLM [Save Laguna Lake Movement] and PAMALAKAYA [Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas ]– they number, if one were to believe them, some 2 million people who live on the shore and another 1.9 million whose livelihoods depend on the lake. Fearing dislocation from their established lifestyles, these militant groups, no strangers to obstructive tactics and creative use of statistics, stymied and obstructed all attempts by government to raise the lake dwellers living standard ever since the 1980s. These fisherfolk and settlers have closed their minds against any form of external interference to their traditional livelihood. Mention the words “dredging”, “lake shore dike/roadway” and “community enhancement”, you immediately get a flood of protests claiming relocation in disguise.
Obstruction in all ways
Attempts by water utilities to tap the lake for the Metro's summer water supply shortage have met with opposition. The 54 or so LGU's that dot the lake's shore have had between them projects that would dredge, flood control and reclaim some 5,000 ha. for future development along with a proposed scenic 220km bay walk. Included in these plans are the improvement of lake shore access and sewerage/drainage.
Dying lake, refused resuscitation
Why these fisherfolk are against dredging boggles the imagination. With their lifestyle, dredging would increase the capacity of the lake to continue to function as their septic tank and garbage dump. Moreover, it would allow the free flow of upstream floodwaters into the deeper parts of the lake, thus, hopefully ending their annual evacuation to inland schools and relief centers whenever it floods. Roadways and dikes, along with community development, they suspect, are justification to forcibly relocate them to pave the way for property developers. They refuse to believe that a 4.0m high dike would greatly increase the water impounding and fish reproducing capacity of the lake, considering that the average depth of the lake is, today, a dangerously shallow 2.5m. With such a poisonous atmosphere, who would want to deal with them much less bother establishing planned communities next to them?
Dike, expressway, reclaimed islands
Enter the reclaimed island idea that has been floating about among the many LGU's that dot the lake shore. With the islands, come the dike and a scenic expressway. Besides controlling floods, like much of Holland, the dike/expressway will augment the currently clogged and dismembered lakeshore roads. A dike like this can only be effective once it is finished in its complete circumference, which leads to the inclusion of a 100km long scenic circumferential toll expressway on top of this dike. The PPP planners then assumed that to enhance the toll paying traffic, the soil extracted from dredging can be used for reclamation, creating planned island communities, accessible via the LLDEx. This way the lakeshore hovels can stay by the bay walk.
Reduction of fishing zones
Without a doubt, these militant fisherfolk will now claim that the islands encroach on their fishing grounds and hence their entitlement to a livelihood. It won't be hard for these lakeshore dwellers to find a sympathetic environmentalist group who can force fit a study to support their favored conclusion which will say that the islands will reduce the fish catch and zones where they used to be free to fish pen whenever and wherever they please.
Disharmony: the rich vs. poor divide
This situation, a disparate us against them, island rich vs. an aggrieved and militant lakeshore poor, doesn't augur well for any harmonious cross-lake co-existence. Imagine how that affects community security, specially if the reclaimed islands were to have mixed used malls and entertainment zones?
Bypassing the noisy opposition
With the government now facing a huge fine when [not if] it loses the case filed by BDC against it in International arbitration, it latched on the reclaimed-island-dike-expressway idea and then decided to rehash the LLRP into a PPP. In one fell stroke, or so they thought, one bypasses the troublesome obstructionists – the lakeshore fisherfolk – as much as it possibly could.
Post failed PPP bidding, the other faults the prospective bidders did not like are the lack of committed linkages to C-5 and C-6, Citra's Metro Manila Expressway. Two years ago, we opined that the LLDEx needed linkages to CALAx and the Calamba end of the SLEx too. Moreover, we also pointed out that the LLDEx as PPP as bided out is only from Bicutan to Los Banos, currently served by a heavily trafficked national highway. It is not yet a scenic expressway that fully circumnavigates the beautiful Laguna de Bay.
More improvements, longer franchise period
Other adjustments that came along before the failed bidding was the reduction of the LLD expressway width from 3x3 plus shoulder dual carriageway to 2x2. The purpose of which is to allow a lower investment to recoup within the 35 year BOT franchise period. We are not in favor of this either as expanding to 3x3 years later is highly disruptive for an elevated expressway over a body of water, unlike an expressway built over land. Besides, the cheapest and fastest way to build an elevated 3x3 carriageway expressway is to use Citra's “sosrobahu” or rotating pierhead technology, which commits the PPP builder to no less than 3x3 plus shoulder carriageway width all throughout the expressway.
Full scale ring road
We believe that to save the LLDEx PPP, it should be rehashed to be a complete circumferential dike and lakeshore expressway, all 100kms of it. It should have prepared exit points at areas where proposed reclaimed islands may connect in the future. The real estate component is thus separated from the dike-expressway. Phase 1 should start in Tanay, sweep south by southwest to Bicutan and temporarily terminate in Los Banos. Phase 2 leading through Laguna and connecting at Tanay at the expressway's east end, must commence immediately as dikes cannot be left unfinished at two/thirds built as it will be ineffective in containing floods.
More through traffic, more paying custom
We are aware that the LLDEx PPP expressway had weak projected traffic because it runs parallel to the existing SLEx and it connects towns that are already served by SLEx. But we opine that the traffic on LLDEx will take on a different and more numerous character once it is a full circumferential lakeshore highway because it will serve the province of Rizal and all of Laguna, not just towns between Bicutan and Los Banos.
More time, more experts
To complete the picture, LLDEx should have a tenure longer than 35 years. How long? Well the Norman Foster designed Millau Viaduct over the Tarn gorge in France, at one time the world's tallest viaduct, has a pay back time frame of 75 years. Why not 95 years for a new, PPP expressway, the PHP200B LLDEx? Local bidders like San Miguel, Alloy Mtd and the Triumvirate of SM-Ayala-Aboitiz can invite floating community experts from Amsterdam and Copenhagen including the designers of reclaimed islands in Dubai. Participation of the Phil. Estates Authority can help clarify the balance of the environment and affordable/sustainable living communities on reclaimed land.
They lived happily ever after
And the fisher-folks? Well they can live happily ever after although we are sure they would point to the LLDEx pylons as eyesores that block their access to their fish pens, never mind if they find creative use to the expressway's pylons and dike. And whatever else, ad nauseam. Well, we can't please everyone. At least we will have a proper road for those who wish to just pass through, enjoy the view and have nothing to do with the environmental problems and self-inflicted crises that the militant lake shore pressure groups seem to want to preserve.