THE World Bank’s International Center for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) ruled January 23 that former President Benigno Aquino III’s unilateral cancellation in 2011 of a Belgian firm’s P18-billion flood-control venture, the Laguna Lake Rehabilitation Project, was illegal and unfair.
It ordered the Philippine government to pay the Belgian dredging firm Baagerwerken Decloedt En Zoon (BDZ) P800 million, or what it had already put into the country—plus interest costs from 2011 to this month—when Aquino scuttled the project in November 2010, a few months after he took office.
The Rodrigo Duterte administration can’t justly ask us taxpayers to shoulder that nearly P1 billion penalty: It was solely Aquino, not the Cabinet nor any other government body, that recommended the cancellation of the project. In contrast, in the case of the government’s cancellation of the PIATCO Terminal III project, which it also lost, the Cabinet, the Solicitor General and even the Supreme Court had collectively decided that that airport project was riddled with graft.
Aquino didn’t even issue any written order to formally inform BDZ that he was cancelling the contract. It was scuttled in actual practice only through Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima’s refusal to sign the documents accepting the Belgian government’s P7 billion grant to fund the project. If Purisima can’t produce documents to prove that Aquino ordered him not to sign the papers, he should be legally liable for gross negligence in office.