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From our mailbox…in defense of Bebet Gozun

October 2, 2006

Sept. 30, 2006

Dear Stella,

Thank you for covering the Guimaras oil spill through your blog. Indeed, we need all the venues we can get to encourage more participation from our people and critical thinking.

However, I am saddened by your comment to the article of Rolly Espina (Phil Star 9/05/06), Is Petron pulling the wool over Guimarasnon’s eyes? Allow me to paste it here

Yeah, Nick…what’s so great about being stuck in your airconditioned office in Manila when you can walk along Guimaras’s oil-slicked beaches and inhale the perfume of rotten eggs in the air? Oh and yeah, why didn’t you go see Gov. Nava in person instead of sending former DENR secretary Bebet Gozun, hmmm? (Poor woman got stressed by your sordid FGLA-tribal affair.) You afraid of stumbling on one of the barge platforms and falling into the sludge too?

I cannot comment on what you said about Mr. Alcantara because I don’t know him personally. But I feel sad that your comment has created the impression that former DENR Secretary Bebet Gozun was actually sent by Mr. Alcantara to Guimaras. I think this is not true.

I used to be Sec Bebet’s technical staff (assigned as her close-in-aide during the last 7 months of her stint in DENR) and was also working with her through our NGO involvements prior to the DENR stint. We are not close friends nor am I privy to everything that she does but one thing I am 100% sure about is her integrity and impeccable and untainted track record in both her civil society and government engagements.

I knew of the time when she was forced to call for the termination of the services of a retireable DENR official due to corrupt practices. I knew this broke her heart but that she had to do it to clean up the ranks. You can ask DENR employees and I believe they will tell you that under Sec Bebet’s tenure, DENR was able to clean up its rank (at least in the best way that one government official can).

Many will agree that Sec Bebet is a tough and dedicated person who also has a soft heart but one thing is for sure – she won’t allow anyone, not even the highest-ranking officer of Petron or even the President herself to tell her to do something which goes against her principle. (Emphasis by the site administrator) I know this for a fact because I held her mobile phones for her when she was in meetings and I get to receive her calls and text messages. This gave me 100% access to who is she as a person. High-ranking government officials will call her and pressure her to do this or that or appoint this person to a certain post but she never gave in to their demands unless her doing so would serve the common good. (Emphasis by the site admin)

If you can just allow yourself to work with her for even a week, you will also see this aspect of her personality. She fights her own battles and no one can dictate how she must do it. I don’t know if she will be upset with me because I am writing this. I may be accused of being her ‘spokesperson’. She might also not like the fact that I am taking this up without her knowledge. But I really feel it is my duty to correct
that impression created by the comment in your blog – because I feel it is such a great disservice for someone who has been doing such great work for this country even until now, when she is no longer “up there”.

Let me tell you another reason why I am very sure that she was not sent by Petron to Guimaras. Last Aug. 27, I received an e-mail from the Partnership for Clean Air PCA), requesting for our organization, YPNET, to assist Petron in whatever way we can in the clean-up and rehab efforts in Guimaras. (Our VP, Froilan Grate, is a Guimarasnon. He was also the one who initiated the online “Boycott Petron” campaign.) YPNET is a member of PCA. Sec Bebet, I believe, is one of the trustees of PCA. She was cc’d in the e-mail. I am pasting here the full text of the e-mail.

The one who wrote to me is Chee-Anne, who is a batchmate of mine in Ateneo Graduate School. Prior to this e-mail she mentioned about Petron needing help and I replied that yes, we are open to helping them but that she can write to me more about it. Never in our talk did
Chee-anne mentioned being asked by Sec. Bebet to approach me or YPNET. Chee-anne did it on her own.

This is the text of her e-mail —

Dear Mei,

Thank you so much for volunteering YPNET to help mobilize communities in the Iloilo-Negros area in light of the Guimaras oil spill. By this email, i’d like to introduce you to Maila Ong from Petron. She was the one who proposed the project concept to the Partnership for Clean Air.

Maila, Mei is the Founding President of the Young Professionals Network for Earth-Friendly Action (YPNET) and she worked closely with Ms. Bebet during the time she was DENR Secretary. One of the more active members of YPNET, Froilan, is a Guimarasnon so the commitment to really help communities is a definite priority. YPNET is an organizational member of the Partbership for Clean Air.

I hope we all can get together soonest to firm up activity plans for the
assistance to Iloilo-Negros community. Kindly cc me on all communications so we in the PCA Secretariat also get updated.

Thanks,

Chee-Anne Guzman
Coordinator
Partnership for Clean Air
Manila Observatory
Ateneo de Manila Campus
Loyola Heights, Quezon City
Tel: 426 5921 to 23
Fax: 426 0847
E-mail: pca@observatory.ph
Website: http://www.cleanairnet.org/philippines

After this e-mail there had been exchanges of more e-mails and we all agreed to have a meeting. I am also attaching all the e-mails for you to appreciate how this informal group has met and how it is now working together to help the affected communities of Guimaras.

On the first meeting, Maila Ong of Petron attended, as well as Froilan and Maine (of YPNET) and Sec Bebet. It was the first time for us to meet anyone from Petron and I believe it was also the first time for Maila to meet Sec Bebet.

The discussions focused on “what do we do now? How can we all work together?” When Froilan arrived (he was flying from Guimaras that evening and so he went straight to Figaro from the airport), we both told Maila that we were the ones who began the “Boycott Petron” campaign. But that we are here sitting with her because we feel that it is better to work with them and help them rather than treat them as “the enemy.” It was also a tough decision for us in YPNET to decide to work together with Petron. We know and expect that some people may (again) put some colors in it. But I think we should just gently remind them that what we’re all doing is simply to help the affected communities. We feel that it’s not the time to point fingers at anyone anymore. For us, the fact that Petron is doing something about the spill is enough at this point. While I still continue to believe that Petron and M/V Solar are liable for all the damages, I still also believe that the best approach is to just work together.

In YPNET, we encourage the “culture of engagement” rather than antagonism.

And we are inspired by this saying, “Really great people always see the best in others; it is the little man who looks for the worst–and finds it.” I read this somewhere and would always carry it in my heart whenever people would say something unfair or unfounded about how I or we do things.

Anyway, if you will kindly read the e-mails* below and what others may know of her and the work that she does, you would know in your heart that people like Sec Bebet will not be coerced by anyone to do something such as being the mouthpiece or representative of Petron. Like us, she also values the spirit of engagement and that she is also helping Petron as a private citizen not because she is paid by them or is benefiting from it.

Like many of us, she just simply wants to help because the plight of Guimaras people doesn’t afford us anymore the luxury of even worrying what people might think about us or the danger of being accused as “conniving with the enemies.”

We are still angry at what happened to Guimaras. We all believe that Petron and M/V Solar are liable and should pay. But at the end of the day, some things have to be done. And Petron is willing to do some of those. Who are we to judge anyone? We are not God to say that “you are wrong and you should not even touch the soil where we land our feet on.” Some people in Petron may want to escape the burden and say something that is utterly unfair or offensive. But who are we to judge? Let their conscience bother them. The work we need to do is immense. Let our consciences lead the way towards what is best for the affected people of Guimaras.

We will be careful when dealing with Petron as I am sure they will be when dealing with us. They are not 100% sure, too, if we’re sincere or just want to use their money for our own publicity. After all, who is YPNET? Who is Froilan? Who is PCA? There will always be uncertainties and doubts. But at the end of the day – the people of Guimaras still need our help.

Dear Stella, please help us in building a Filipino community where there is less doubt and more faith in the goodness of man. Please work with us as we help the people of Guimaras. Please try get to know us, please try get to know Sec Bebet. We have our own confusions, doubts, stories and struggles but like you, we also want the best for this country. We will commit mistakes but we also know that we will learn from them. If you like to join YPNET and the work that we do for Guimaras, please e-mail me at mei_velas@pldtdsl.net/mei_velas@yahoo.com.

God bless you!

Kind regards,

Mei
————————————————————————————-

*As per Mei’s request, I am not publishing said emails.

Anyway, as I replied to Mei via email, I told her that I have known Bebet Gozun even before she became DENR Secretary. I was a BusinessWorld reporter then and she used to be the head executive assistant of Jun Factoran in the late ’80s when the latter became DENR Secretary. After her stint in DENR, I heard that Bebet got into consultancies on environment projects and such.

Communication between Bebet and I were renewed when I began working on other environmental campaigns, and a few years after that, I heard she became DENR chief. I’m sure her stint at the DENR was very challenging especially because of the cases involving family friends like Nick Alcantara whose FLGLA was cancelled by the Supreme Court and the land supposed to be turned over to the indigenous tribes in the area. And yes, it cannot be denied that she and Nick are friends. What’s wrong with that? Absolutely nothing and I withhold judgement on whatever transpired in that sordid affair. I think the facts of that issue speak for themselves.

I must say though that there have been many allegations against Bebet in the course of this oil spill issue, most of which I have not published here. But for Mei’s appreciation, I must now disclose that my unimpeachable sources have told me that Bebet personally called “an aquaintance” in Guimaras who is very close to Gov. Nava, asking him to act as a bridge between her, Petron and the governor. She has been quoted as saying that she had been “tapped as consultant by Petron.”

I emailed her about this and of course, she denied it. In her email to me last Sept. 8, this is what Bebet said:

“nick just asked for my advise re what to do with all the waste that are being gathered. am helping address the guimaras problem behind the scene. hindi naman talaga ako mahilig pumapel. this includes working with others (NGOs and projects) who are on the ground doing something and thinking of short and long term solutions.”

Frankly, I really don’t care anymore whether Bebet is a Petron consultant or not. In the end, what she does is between her and her God. And by the way, even if she is a Petron consultant Mei, I’m sure there was no “coercion” involved.

I salute Mei for coming out to defend her former boss. I’m sure despite the differences in our views, Mei’s heart is in the right place. I’m glad there are still young people like her who can still believe in the basic goodness of man. (In contrast, as a journalist I have been trained to look at people and situations with skepticism. And after 15 years of being in the business, I have learned to discern between the truth and B.S.)

Mei’s help in Guimaras is certainly invaluable.

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