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Hungary eyes Laguna Lake rehab, offers Philippines $30-million credit

Hungary has proposed a $30-million assistance to the Philippine government for the rehabilitation and water treatment of Laguna Lake, its top diplomat said Thursday.

Speaking to GMA News Online in a one on one interview, Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto said a formal offer was made during his bilateral meeting with Philippine counterpart Secretary Teodoro Locsin.

“Water management is one of the main areas of our cooperation for the future. We have offered a $30-million credit line to the Philippines in which Hungarian companies are ready to take part for the rehabilitation of the Laguna Lake,” said Szijjarto, the first foreign senior government official to visit Manila in nearly eight months since the coronavirus pandemic.  

“We have been in lengthy negotiations now with the Laguna Lake development agency,” he said.

Over the years, efforts to rehabilitate Laguna Lake - the biggest in the Philippines and the second biggest inland freshwater lake in Southeast Asia – have been delayed due to legal challenges and setbacks. 

In 2012, former President Benigno Aquino junked an P18.7-billion rehabilitation deal entered into by his predecessor, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, with Belgian firm Baggerwerken Decloedt En Zoon (BDC), citing irregularities. The allegation was denied by BDC, while Aquino’s officials said the project is legally-binding. 

Ruling in favor of BDC, the World Bank-attached tribunal International Center for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) in 2017 ordered the Philippine government to pay P800 million compensation to the Belgian firm. 

Szijjarto said Hungary is known to have the expertise and capability in terms of water management and treatment.

Hungary has been credited for successfully improving water condition in Lake Balaton, a fresh water lake in the country’s western region and the largest in Central Europe. Lake Balaton has since been transformed into a bustling tourist destination.

Under the Hungary’s proposal, Szijjarto said Hungarian companies in cooperation with the Laguna Lake Development Authority (LLDA) will conduct feasibility studies and establish measuring stations for water quality on 46 different spots of the lake.

“We are ready to deliver 16 water purification facilities in the country in order to ensure a sustainable potable water supply for the regions in the Philippines. So it’s a $30-million package which we are ready to provide you,” he said.

Home to nearly 14 million people, Metro Manila’s major water supply comes from the 60-year old Angat Dam.

“We are ready to provide Hungarian expertise, provide experience. We hope we could start soon,” Szijjarto said, adding the rehabilitation of Laguna Lake is likewise expected to boost tourism in the area.

Hungarian water management is not new to the Philippines, he said, noting that a major water company from Hungary has provided a mobile water purification equipment to the Philippine Department of National Defense.

“If we are successful with the negotiations about the Laguna Lake then we will be faced with these Hungarian water management solutions in a pretty frequent basis,” Szijjarto said. -NB, GMA News