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Ruivivar misses the point

October 7, 2006

Go Go Ilonggo
By Oliver Mendoza
The Guardian Iloilo, Oct. 7, 2006

IN A letter to THE GUARDIAN last Saturday, the Public Affairs Manager of oil giant Petron Corporation criticized this writer for making “erroneous” and “malicious” allegations against Petron Chair and CEO Nicasio “Nick” Alcantara. In my column entitled “Opportunity in Tragedy” which appeared here last September 22, 2006, I revealed that Holcim, the cement company which has been tapped by Petron to process the collected oil sludge from Guimaras, was partly-owned by Alsons Cement, a company owned by the family of Mr. Alcantara. In her letter, Miss Ruivivar informed that Mr. Alcantara already divested himself of his shareholdings in Alsons Cement and that Alsons Cement is now owned by Holderfin, the parent company of Holcim. She also wrote, “we do hope that in the future Mr. Mendoza would substantiate his facts like any responsible journalist would before writing his columns.”

I think Miss Ruivivar totally missed the point I was trying to make. The point that I was trying to say is this: By tapping the services of a company associated and, as Miss Ruivivar pointed out, previously owned by Mr. Alcantara’s family, Petron committed a questionable and improper act. The main issue here is that Petron, which the public thinks is one of the main culprits in this catastrophe, should not even be seen at the slightest as profiting from the tragedy. By using Holcim, Mr. Alcantara opened himself up to a compromising position and embarrassing situation wherein his motives will be questioned. Now, the question at the back of people’s minds is: Did Petron give the collected oil to Holcim as a personal favor to Mr. Alcantara’s business contacts? Was it proper for Petron to give the oil to Holcim (for free) given the fact that Holcim had a prior transactional relationship with the Alcantara family of Mindanao? To my mind, the fact that Mr. Alcantara had already divested is immaterial and does not assuage people’s suspicions. PR-wise, I believe it was a bad decision on Petron’s part to hire Holcim.

In fact, the decision to award the recovered oil sludge to Holcim raises more questions which I hope Miss Ruivivar, in the interest of transparency, would answer, such as:

How was the decision to give the collected oil sludge in Guimaras reached at?

Was the Petron Board of Directors consulted?

Or if it was a unilateral decision, who made that decision?

Before awarding the oil to Holcim, did Petron conduct a survey of other alternative ways of destroying/disposing the oil sludge?

What is actually more surprising is the information offered by Miss Ruivivar that they are “paying Holcim on a per kilo basis to process the waste in an environment-friendly manner.” I presume (since we are but a mere provincial daily) that Miss Ruivivar does not regularly read The Guardian. So I would like to direct her attention to my column dated September 7 entitled “Australian Firm Offers to Take Out Guimaras Oil For Free” wherein I wrote that a liquid and hazardous toxic waste treatment plant in Cavite has offered to treat the oil sludge free of charge. Thereafter, I wrote an email to Maila Ong who also works at the PR department of Petron Corporation and likewise tried to contact other Petron people to tell them about the generous offer of the Australian toxic waste disposal expert. But to date, I have yet to receive a reply to my email and the only reaction I got is the letter from Miss Ruivivar.

If they knew about this offer, I wonder what the stockholders of Petron Corporation, especially its foreign partners Saudi Aramco, would do about such offer. I wonder if they would still opt to give the oil to Holcim. I wonder if they would agree to pay Holcim on a “per kilo basis” as Ruivivar bared, to process the recovered oil sludge. Aside from the Australian firm, I am sure that there are many liquid waste treatment plants out there which would gladly process the oil sludge for free – my Australian contact says the oil sludge can be treated, recycled and sold again as bunker fuel, thereby making a profit for anyone who gets the oil sludge. So I really do not understand Petron’s decision choosing Holcim when there is someone offering to do the same job for free.

Miss Ruivivar closed her letter by bemoaning the fact that “despite our best efforts to disseminate the facts about the oil spill in Guimaras, we have been victims of constant attacks by the media both locally and nationally. Regardless of these, we wish to assure you that Petron remains committed to its objective to do everything humanly possible.” Well, the only thing I can say to this statement is that I believe Philippine media has in fact been “nice” and have been treating Petron Corporation with kid gloves. If this tragedy happened in other countries, the media would already be calling for heads to roll and there would already be mass resignations from the top executive to middle management levels of the corporation. Moreover, the offending parties would not have the temerity to claim that they are the victims and be indignant about the supposed unfair and biased media coverage that their firm is getting.

The Petron Oil Spill in Guimaras is a crime. Petron PR officials would like us to believe that it is a crime with no criminals. I do not think that people will swallow their PR line.

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