THE Philippine government is gearing up for the arbitration of the P6-billion lawsuit that a Belgian company filed against the country before an international tribunal over the scrapped Laguna Lake Rehabilitation Project, with 22 Filipino officials as potential witnesses.
Presidential adviser for environmental protection Nereus Acosta bared the preparations of the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) in his motion to travel abroad before the Sandiganbayan, where he asked court permission to go Washington D.C. in line with the arbitration.
The concurrent general manager of the Laguna Lake Development Authority told the anti-graft court’s Fourth Division that the OSG sought his presence for the arbitration before the International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) in Washington, D.C.
The proceeding, Acosta said, “relates to the supposed project in Laguna Lake for dredging” which was planned to be carried out by Baagerwerken Decloedt en Zoon N.V. as part of the Laguna Lake rehabilitation contract.
However, the P18.7-billion project was unilaterally scrapped in 2010 after the Aquino administration identified it as a “midnight deal” of the previous administration.
The Oostende-based company initiated a P6-billion lawsuit before ICSID for allegations of breach of contract, which the OSG is now preparing for.
In its “urgent and strictly confidential” letter to Acosta, the OSG said that the tribunal scheduled the hearing on March 3 to 14, “where some, if not all, of the parties’ witnesses/experts will be called for cross examinations, among others.”
Other documents, however, was not attached in Acosta’s travel petition to the Sandiganbayan, but Acosta said there are 22 witnesses scheduled to be present, among others, himself, Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima and Justice Secretary Leila de Lima.
The OSG asked Acosta to be present a week before and after the arbitration, considering his position is “important in the subject matter.”
In its reply, the Office of the Ombudsman blocked Acosta’s travel petition.
“The letter [of OSG to Acosta]merely informs movant of the possibility of being called as witness. No subpoena, letter or any document attached to the motion to show that [Acosta] is required to testify abroad,” prosecutors said.
Fiscals added that the letter does not bear any marking or approval from the President to indicate that Acosta is officially authorized to travel to Washington.
Acosta’s permission to travel stems from his four-count graft case before the Sandiganbayan, where the Ombudsman alleged that he disbursed P8 million from his priority development assistance fund when he was still a representative of Bukidnon province for the private use of Bukidnon Integrated Network of Home Industries, Inc. and Bukidnon Vegetable Producers Cooperative.
JOHN CONSTANTINE G. CORDON