Corporate social responsibility

December 29, 2006


THIS year we saw two faces of big corporations exercising corporate social responsibility. The experiences of these two corporations would probably end up as case studies in management and public relations on how and how not to deal with disasters.

The first case is that of Petron and the celebrated sinking of the tanker Solar I off the coast of Guimaras. The tanker was carrying bunker fuel oil owned by Petron.

It is surprising that Petron, one of the country’s largest corporations, was apparently not prepared to handle the public relations/public affairs aspect of the disaster.

It appears that Petron management obtained advice from its lawyers on the public relations aspect of the oil spill disaster. It should have gone to communications experts. This is the only explanation for the baffling public statement issued by Petron officials disclaiming legal responsibility for the damages caused by the oil spill.

Petron’s lawyers must have told the firm’s officials to avoid any public admission of responsibility which could affect expected legal cases that would be filed against the company. Hence the memorable line “we have no legal responsibility” for the disaster which only roused public anger and triggered calls for a boycott of Petron products.

Lawyers should be consulted for legal issues but when it comes to making public statement and handling the media aspect of the disaster, the advice of communications experts should be given more weight.

Communications experts would have probably advised Petron management that the best statement was that the issue of legal responsibility was up to the courts to decide, but that Petron would do everything it could to help the victims and to clean up the areas affected by the oil spill.

Apparently, the lawyers also held sway when the barge carrying the debris from the Guimaras oil spill sank on its way to a cement plant in Mindanao, where the bunker fuel-soaked materials would be used as fuel.

Again, Petron officials were quick to deny any legal responsibility for possible damages. They also hastily said that the barge and its contents did not pose any threat to nearby areas.

All in all, the perception created by what appears to be a mishandling of Petron of the public relations aspect of the Guimaras oil spill was to make the company appear irresponsible and unwilling to take care of its obligations. The message conveyed was that Petron is not a good corporate citizen.

True, Petron spent hundreds of millions for the cleanup and assistance to the citizens of Guimaras affected by the spill. The perception, however, that it did less than what was expected, remains.

Perception is the reality as far as the public is concerned. People act and think according to their perception even when this is different from how things really are. As it is, it might take some time and effort for Petron to regain its image as a responsible corporate citizen.

Contrast Petron’s reaction to the Guimaras oil spill to the way ABS-CBN handled the “Wowowee” stampede where 71 people died and scores were injured.

The pivotal move that turned public opinion in favor of ABS-CBN was the decision of the network’s chief executive Gabby Lopez to go on television acknowledging responsibility for what happened. Lopez also pledged to do everything that it could to help the victims.

ABS-CBN backed up Lopez’s words with action. Through the ABS-CBN Foundation, and even corporate funds, the company took care of the hospitalization of people injured in the stampede. It covered the burial expenses of those who died.

And it did more. To provide long-term assistance to the families of those who died in the Ultra stampede, ABS-CBN put up the 71 Dreams Foundations Inc. The foundation aimed to make a partnership with the beneficiaries and make them self-sufficient with a sense of autonomy and freedom.

The biggest challenge to the foundation is the fact that the majority of those who died in the stampede were the main providers and the more productive members of their families. Most of the family members left behind have been dependent on them and were unemployed.

The name chosen for the foundation is appropriate. Those who died in the stampede all had dreams for their families and were clutching at the chance that they would win one of the major prizes in the big “Wowowee” anniversary extravaganza. They dreamed that the prizes could turn their lives around.

Of the 71 who died, one was a child, three were male adults and 67 were female adults. Many of those who died were elderly. In fact, 46 of those who died were aged 50 and above. Two were over 71 years old.

Their families are now enjoying the fulfillment of the dreams of the 71 who died. Those they have left behind have been given education, livelihood and employment assistance by the foundation.

The foundation currently supports 81 scholars. It has completed livelihood training course for 29 “partners” and 26 families have received livelihood assistance, mostly sari-sari stores with bigasan. Other livelihood projects supported by the foundation range from cellphone repair to buy and sell of charcoal to peanut vending.

The foundation, which is headed by Fr. Carmelo Caluag, is in constant touch with the families of the victims of the Ultra stampede. Last Christmas, all 71 families were given a noche buena package. Family gifts were also given to selected families based on expressed/identified need of the family.

The handling of ABS-CBN of the Ultra stampede tragedy is a perfect example of corporate social responsibility. We can only wish that other corporations involved in similar situations would do the same. (Manila Standard Today, Dec. 29, 2006)



  1. The banks might apply disaster mgt and PR to the bonuses and risk-taking since the crisis.

  2. good day,

    i am from south cotabato, i belong to Tboli tribe, a social worker working in the remote community of Tboli Municipality, i would to like to inquire, if how are we going to establish linkage with the petron company on its corporate social responsibilities especially in establishing schools. for the Indigeneous People children living in the hinterlands.

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