A PR disaster – among other things

September 6, 2006

By Rina Jimenez-David

IT WAS perhaps the worst PR disaster any company had to confront. When the tanker Solar 1 sank off the coast of Guimaras last Aug. 11, Petron Corp. management was oblivious to the fact that thousands of liters of their bunker fuel was seeping out of the sunken ship and washing onto the shoreline of Guimaras and nearby areas.

“We learned about it only on Saturday (Aug. 12) noon,” remembers Petron public relations head Virginia Ruivivar, after the survivors of the wreck had been rescued. “The reason we could not issue any statement right off was that we needed to assess the extent of the damage,” she adds, admitting that in the first few days of the crisis, they didn’t realize how “big” it would become – in political terms, environmental damage, media exposure and corporate image.

But in the weeks that followed, Ruivivar and the rest of the team handling the fallout from the Guimaras disaster would realize the full extent of what they were dealing with. For weeks, the oil spill was the banner story in most newspapers and remains front-page material today. It also led the evening newscasts, and though it is no longer headline material, the impact of the oil spill has spawned nightly news reports and human-interest stories.

Ruivivar came for particularly blistering criticism after she publicly stated that Petron has neither a legal nor a contractual liability for the damage caused by the oil spill, although she did try to soften the statement by adding that the company nonetheless felt a “moral obligation” to help with the cleanup and assist the affected communities recover from the disaster, including long-term rehabilitation.

(For the entire piece, click Rina, Sept. 6, 2006.)


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