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From our mailbox…Love letters from Petron

October 9, 2006

THE following is an exchange of emails between myself and one Petron PR officer named Raffy Ledesma on Oct. 3, 2006.

For everyone’s information, Nay-nay Velez, who Mr. Ledesma refers to as his cousin, was a fellow environmentalist who helped me and a few others campaign against the Arroyo government’s planned illegal implementation of an incinerator contract a few years ago.
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Dear Ms. Arnaldo,

I am sending you a copy of my response (sent on September 11) to an e-mail that you sent to my cousin Cristina Velez (Nay-nay). In your letter, you accused Petron of spending tens of millions of pesos to “bribe” the media and “control” the news about the Guimaras oil spill.

I have read your blogs and I do appreciate your concern and your efforts to inform the public of what has happened in Guimaras. However, I do hope that you can be more “balanced” and “objective” and perhaps be more constructive.

Here is a copy of my response. Thank you.

Hi Nay. It has been a busy month for me so I apologize for not being able to immediately answer e-mails forwarded by Cla-Cla.

First of all, I want you to know that we have made a commitment to stay in Guimaras and spend whatever it takes to restore the island to what it once was.

I read the e-mail of Stella Arnaldo and I may have met her before since she used to be an editor in Manila Standard if my memory serves me right.

With regard to Petron “bribing” the media, it is quite easy to belie this. If we are indeed spending millions for PR, then why do we read, see and hear negative stories coming out in all major print and broadcast organizations almost daily? We suspect that the rumors about us bribing media may have come from the very people we have refused to bribe. I have personally received some offers from media organizations to “help” in downplaying this tragedy but we simply do not do business this way. We practice strict corporate governance rules and I am glad that this is our policy.

Since Day 1, our employee volunteers have been on the ground and in our desire to immediately attend to the victims of the oil spill, we may have inadvertently ignored our equally important obligation to the media and the public to inform them of our actions. Still, I believe that we have made the right decision to focus on Guimaras since this is the main battleground and not the media.

Vicky Castro is indeed our PR consultant and she has been helping us disseminate the facts regardless if it is negative or positive for Petron. At the end of the day, we will be judged for what we have done in Guimaras and no amount of PR can gloss over any inaction on our part.

It is quite easy to criticize (and typical) from afar and believe me I have received dozens of e-mails to that effect. But I have been on the ground many times helping out in the shoreline clean-up, distributing relief packets, assisting our medical teams and listening to my fellow Ilonggos. I am heartened by the fact that the Guimarasnons have “adopted” our employee volunteers offering us meals, shelter in their homes etc.

So far, we have cleaned nearly 120 kilometers of shoreline collecting nearly 1,300 metric tons of oil-covered debris which we are in the process of shipping out of the island. Subject to the inspection of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, we can declare several baranggays clean. We continue to distribute relief goods and give medical aid in coordination with various government agencies.

While there are many organizations who have become oil spill experts overnight and continue to criticize our efforts, there are a lot of institutions who are actually helping us look for sustainable solutions. We have partnered with environmental experts from U.P. Visayas, Silliman University and the World Wildlife Fund to assess the actual damage and produce a roadmap for the long-term rehabilitation of the island’s ecosystems. Other corporations, individuals and NGO’s are also assisting us to provide alternative livelihood to Guimaranons until the situation normalizes. Our Foundation (which is spearheading our efforts there) has been in discussions with the Department of Education so we can replicate our education-related projects in Metro Manila and Mindanao in Guimaras.

Of course Stella could confirm all these things once she actually decides to go to Guimaras and check with the people on the ground.

Moving forward, we are cooperating with various agencies to ensure that the possibility of such a tragedy will be minimized and/or eliminated. We have inaugurated the 2nd double-hull and double-bottom vessel in the Philippines (MT Aston) last August 31 and we are the only oil company in the country to be using such vessels for transport. We have offered long-term charter contracts to our marine haulers as an incentive for them to construct double-hull, double-bottom vessels. We are expecting 7 more similar vessels to be commissioned from now until the end of 2007. We are actually ahead of the International Maritime Organization’s requirement to only use these vessels for domestic transport by 2008.

It must be stressed, however, that it has not been yet established whether the design of Solar I (single-hull, double-bottom) had anything to do with the accident. A double hull gives additional protection for at-sea collisions while a double-bottom does the same when a ship is grounded (hits a coral reef, rock formation etc.). In this case, Solar 1 sank in open sea.

While have made substantial progress, there is still a long way to go. There are people who continue to waste their energies on finger-pointing and criticizing but I take solace in the fact that I know we are doing everything humanly possible to help the people of Guimaras.

Please do log on to http://www.ligtasguimaras.com.ph for updates on our clean-up operations.

Take care manang.

Raffy R. Ledesma
Public Affairs
886-3888 (ext 3917)/
886-3022

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Dear Mr. Ledesma:

If you are indeed not bribing media (and please I don’t know of any company which would actually admit to doing it), then perhaps you can take this up with Vicky Castro. Because I don’t know where she has been getting the P500 (she started with that measly amount if you can imagine) to the P3,000 a week budget for some reporters in Iloilo.

I have independent confirmation of this and other bribery attempts because no less than the owner of a large radio station network has confirmed this to me, as well as several local reporters whom Vicky has tried to get to write “happy stories,” that is Vicky’s exact words.

And you do have your happy stories already. I always read the local media’s output online as well as some of those here in Manila. Also, I have friends and relatives there in Iloilo who tell me what is being heard on the radio. So I know very well which publications and radio stations are already in Petron’s fold.

As for “balanced” and “constructive” stories, I’m sure by this you mean to print more of your side. Well Mr. Ledesma, your opinions are always carried in the stories I publish on my blog. Previous to that, I have also published your chairman’s speech and all sorts of “praise releases” from your end and from the government. My sidebar links to your site. So what more do you want?

By the way, a blog being what it is, is by nature an extension of the personality of the author. I can write whatever I see fit for public consumption. The readers can always go to another blog if they don’t like to read what is on mine. I’m surely not going to lose sleep if they prefer your web site.

And by the way, by substantial progress in the cleanup, does that include the areas that have been covered up in cement as well?

Sincerely,

Stella Arnaldo

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Dear Ms. Arnaldo,

Thank you for your reply and we have already looked into this allegation (about us bribing the media to come out with all sorts of “praise” releases) and I can do say with a straight face… I am not aware of all this. Still, I will ask around again and since you have “independent confirmation” from several people no less, I am sure that it will not be hard to find proof of our so-called “bribery.”

The “positive” stories that your relatives have heard are probably the paid advertorials that we have been placing in local media. These transactions are above-board and we surely are not hiding it.

As to being more “balanced” and “objective”, I do not expect you to print more “positive” stories in your blog. I totally subscribe to the notion that the blogger has the right to put any material he or she wants. I just do hope that you will one day visit Guimaras and see for yourself all the bad, as well as good things that have happened since the oil spill.

By “constructive”, I was hoping that you would give us some suggestions or ideas on how we can solve this problem in the least amount of time.

In connection with the alleged “cover-up” of the oil sludge, let me share with you the truth behind the story. The said breakwater in Barangay Tando was cleaned up by our crew although some oil stains remain. A certain Ms. Priscila Galvan, a school teacher in the area, and some residents actually asked our team to bring the breakwater back to its “pre-spill condition”. Since they were concerned with aesthetics, we acceded to their request and cemented the breakwater to cover the oil-stained rocks. We were surprised to learn that Ms. Galvan told the media that we were “covering up” the oil sludge.

If there was still oil on the breakwater as purported by Ms. Galvan, the cement would not adhere and would fall off. To prove that the breakwater was indeed clean, we peeled off the cement so that it can be shown to everyone including the media. The cement found at the base of one coconut tree came from left-over cement that was used for the breakwater.

The oil sludge that we covered with sand was a nearby rocky shore to hasten the natural clean-up effect of wave action over the rocks. (This is SOP in any oil spill). The oil covering the rocks has already dried and could no longer be taken out without the use of dispersants-the application of which might damage the environment further.

Again, thank you for your response and we would be glad to clarify other concerns that you may have.

Raffy R. Ledesma
Public Affairs
886-3888 (ext 3917)/
886-3022

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Dear Mr. Ledesma

Thank you as well for your responses. As a journalist I am committed to giving space to your views as well. So feel free to take up any issue with me. My doors are always open for communication.

Sincerely,

Stella Arnaldo

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NOW either Mr. Ledesma is lying through his teeth about the bribery of journalists or his position isn’t too high up in the PR chain for him to know about this scheme hatched by his bosses. Unfortunately, I’m not at liberty to reveal the name of the radio station network owner who had confirmed the bribery as we had communicated about this matter privately. But I might stress, that this radio station network is probably one of the largest in the country. Neither am I about to reveal the names of the reporters who have been unsuccessfully bribed by Petron’s Vicky Castro. But anyone intelligent enough to read this blog or the local/national papers, or who listen to the radio commentaries in Iloilo, will be discerning enough to know which journalists or broadcasters are on the Petron payroll. (Oh btw, expect a slew of “positive” reports in a few small Iloilo papers and radio stations this week after Petron took them on a media junket over the weekend.)

For the record, since Mr. Ledesma wanted some positive contribution from me about this oil spill, I forwarded to him a comment on the blog from Carlos Palad of Chemrez, which claims to have a safe oil dispersant, and which has offered the dispersant for free. Why Petron or the government would rather use harmful chemicals which I suppose have been purchased instead is anyone’s guess. Btw, whatever happened to those Japanese who went to Guimaras to show the Coast Guard and Petron the effectivity of their product called Jaz Coat? Hmmm?

Now between Petron, which has everything to gain by tweaking the truth about its clean-up efforts, and a public school teacher who has nothing to gain by lying about the cementing of the oil sludge, guess who I believe? In an interview, Petron’s spokesman even denied that it was the company’s cleanup crew which had been assigned to that area. Now Mr. Ledesma says it was their crew who did the cementing but because this is what Ms. Galvan and the residents wanted? Shockers!

As I learned from one great late publicist who was my boss in a previous lifetime, CONSISTENCY has always been the name of the PR game. Keep changing the answers and no one will believe you anymore. He also said to NEVER LIE to the media as the truth is so easy to uncover.

It’s time Petron either hire better publicists, or retrain their present PR officers/spokesman and make them undergo extensive media tutorials. And maybe Petron chair Nick Alcantara and his legal eagles should join the media tutorial as well as they will surely learn a lot about the proper way to deal with media, short of forking over some cash, which is only the fool’s desperate way of getting positive news.

As for visiting Guimaras, I have been planning to do this and am just waiting for the right time so I can work around my heavy schedule to go there. (You see, journalists like myself do have to continue accepting assignments to make ends meet.) Thankfully, I have good sources (government, media, private sector) in the province itself, as well as in Iloilo and Negros Occidental who constantly inform me of the goings-on in Ground Zero and its surrounding areas. But really, does one have to pop open the sewer cover to know how disgusting and filthy the sewer actually is?

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4 comments

  1. Here’s another PR campaign for Petron by TheNewstoday.info

    http://www.thenewstoday.info/2006/10/09/petron.oil.spill.expense.reaches.over.p43.m.html

    I wonder how much they paid. If they can buy the President, they can buy anyone. I wonder if they can buy their way out of eternal damnation. 🙂


  2. Got it Shell. Posted it na. For fairness’ sake. La akong bayad dyan ha! Hahaha! 😉


  3. Last Saturday a group of media were treated to breakfast by Petron officials at the Promenade at Days Hotel in Iloilo. Then they proceeded to Guimaras for a field trip. When they returned to Iloilo in the afternoon, they were PhP1,000 richer and wearing Petron caps and jackets. Cheap!


  4. Ahh, buti nalang hindi yellow Ligtas Guimaras T-shirts and black rubber boots! Hahahaha!



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