Friday, October 06, 2006

Ruivivar Misses The Point

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 GUARDIAN column entitled “Opportunity in Tragedy” (which I also posted here on 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. I am reprinting Miss Ruivivar's letter here in full:

MR. LEMUEL T. FERNANDEZ
Publisher-Editor
The Guardian
Lopez-Jaena St., La Paz, Iloilo City

Dear Mr. Fernandez,

This concerns the column of Mr. Oliver M. Mendoza titled “Opportunity in Tragedy” that was published in The Guardian on September 22. In his column, he wrote that Holcim-Philippines is co-owned by Alsons Cement Corporation, a company owned by the family of Petron Chairman and CEO Nicasio I. Alcantara. Additionally, he wrote “that the Alcantara-owned cement plant effectively received free fuel from the oil spill.”

It is unfortunate that his column is filled with inaccuracies and malice that may have put Petron and Mr. Alcantara in a bad light. We take this opportunity to set the record straight and inform the public of the truth.

Contrary to what he wrote, Holderfin, the parent company of Holcim actually acquired Alsons Cement Corporation in January 1999. Thus, Mr. Alcantara divested of his stake in Alsons Cement long before he joined Petron on July 30, 2001. If Mr. Mendoza did his research, public documents from the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and Philippine Stock Exchange (PSE) would easily verify this fact.

We chose Holcim to process the oily debris from Guimaras because they have the waste management technology that ensures zero harmful emissions. Additionally, Holcim’s operations are supported by its compliance to all environmental requirements by the government. That they will be using the processed waste as raw material for cement production is of secondary importance to Petron. We are actually paying Holcim on a per kilo basis to process the waste in an environment-friendly manner.

We do hope that in the future Mr. Mendoza would substantiate his facts like any responsible journalist would before writing his columns.

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 to help the people of Guimaras and restore the island to its former beauty.

In line with your reputation as “Western Visayas’ Most Read and Respected” publication, we trust that you will give us the same space in The Guardian so that your readers can be informed of the facts.

Very truly yours,
(Signed)
Virginia A. Ruivivar
Public Affairs Manager

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 potentially compromising position and embarrassing situation where his motives will be questioned. Now, the question at the back of peoples’ 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 peoples’ 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:

1. How was the decision to give the collected oil sludge in Guimaras reached at?
2. Was the Petron Board of Directors consulted?
3. Or if it was a unilateral decision, who made that decision?
4. Before awarding the oil to Holcim, did Petron conduct a survey of other alternative/cheaper ways of destroying/disposing the oil sludge?

What is actually more surprising is the information offered by Miss Ruivivar that they are in fact “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. But if she read my column dated September 7 entitled “Australian Firm Offers to Take Out Guimaras Oil For Free” wherein I wrote that a liquid and hazardous waste treatment plant in Cavite EPZ has offered to treat the Guimaras 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 the Australian firms' 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 still choose 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 even been “nice” to them 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 they are 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.

1 comment:

saveguimaras said...

may i post this at the blog?