POSTSCRIPT / June 15, 2006 / Thursday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Reyes warns Lafayette: Do it right this last time!

STILL CAMPAIGNING?: There should be restraint in advertising and calling attention to supposed projects of President Gloria Arroyo benefiting the public, including the poor and the jobless.

Billboards, streamers and other notices posted near ongoing and completed projects give the impression that Ms Arroyo is still campaigning for a mandate. The seeming desperation implies that she is not sure she really won the 2004 presidential elections.

There was, for instance, that big streamer with her face on it at the entrance of the Ayala tunnel on EDSA which is being repainted at an unbelievably slow pace. The presidency is cheapened by her claiming credit for the routine maintenance of a badly designed road facility.

The over-eager project manager even spread the streamer over the permanent marker saying the tunnel is a joint undertaking with the Japanese government. Mercifully, someone or something had taken down the shameful GMA streamer.

This is one area where the President may want to tell her boys to apply CPR — Calibrated Publicity Restraint.

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FINAL TEST: It is Father’s Day on Sunday, and here is Environment Secretary Angelo Reyes taking on a strict father’s role admonishing mining firm Lafayette Philippines Inc. to do it right this last time — or else.

“You fail it, I close it,” Reyes told Lafayette in a decision rendered last Tuesday allowing it to undergo a 30-day monitored test run in the polymetal mine it operates in Rapu-Rapu, Albay, to prove that it adheres to environmentally sound mining practices.

Reyes asked it to place first P10.7 million in escrow. The money represents the fines imposed on the company for the unauthorized release of mine wastewater last Oct. 11 and 31. A final decision on the fines put on appeal by Lafayette is still being awaited.

Reyes’ order boils down to: “No escrow fund, no test. No test, no resumption of full operations.”

* * *

ON BALANCE: Will former Cory environment secretary Carlos G. Dominguez, who was installed as chairman, president and CEO last January to put things in order in Lafayette, measure up?

If Lafayette passes the test that he himself asked for, Dominguez will see the Australia-based firm on the road to extracting $350 million worth of gold, silver, copper and zinc ore in six years.

Full operations would mean 900 new jobs, to be given mostly to residents of Rapu-Rapu, P3 billion in government revenues, and P5 million a year in project commitments. Overall, mineral resources of the country are estimated to be worth $3 trillion.

But if Lafayette fails in the three-phase test — to be conducted with the public, critics and all, watching — the stern Reyes can be expected to make permanent the cease and desist order earlier issued to the firm.

Internally, Reyes has cracked down on DENR personnel found remiss in their monitoring and who should have spotted the impending wastewater spills last October.

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DECISION HAILED: The DENR chief gave credit to the scientific experts, the Rapu-Rapu Fact-Finding Commission, and other resource persons who he said helped him arrive at a balanced decision.

A DENR report said that closing Rapu-Rapu at this time would see small miners descending on the abandoned mine pit, with catastrophic effects on the environment.

Taxpayers will also be burdened with the expense of detoxifying the mine site. This instead of Lafayette being made to fulfill that part of its contract saying it must deactivate the mine in six years using internationally accepted methods that best protect the environment and neighboring communities.

The Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry said Reyes’ decision gave a signal to local and alien businessmen that the government is committed to the Mining Act. Some $1.8 billion in direct foreign investments, including $140 million in mining, were in danger of being pulled out if the decision were otherwise, the PCCI said.

The Federation of Philippine Industries led by its president Jesus Arranza, a civic leader of Sorsogon, said the DENR has achieved a proper balance between the need for more jobs and protecting the environment for farmers, fishermen and the population at large.

Congressmen Rodolfo Plaza, Eduardo Zialcita and Arnulfo Fuentebella, as well as Sen. Edgardo Angara, also hailed the decision. The labor sector, represented by the National Labor Union and the Kongreso ng Pagkakaisa ng mga Manggagawa sa Pilipinas (KPMP), approved of it.

* * *

EPCIB STORM: Meanwhile, some P138 million in cash dividends from 1991 to 1995 of sequestered shares withdrawn by its former chairman under questioned circumstances are in the eye of a storm pounding the Equitable PCI Bank.

For decades now, the issue of whether the block of Equitable PCI Bank shares of stock is owned by the Trans Middle East (Phils.) Equities Inc. or by the government has remained unresolved. (The TMEE is controlled by the family of former Leyte Gov. Benjamin Romualdez.)

The Presidential Commission on Good Government sequestered the shares after the 1986 Edsa Revolt on suspicion that then Philippine Commercial and Industrial Bank was acquired by TMEE through the influence of Romualdez, younger brother of former First Lady Imelda Marcos.

During the short-lived Estrada administration, PCIB and Equitable Bank entered into a merger that gave birth to EPCIB.

* * *

ESCROW IGNORED: The statement of the PCGG that it would press its demand for the EPCIB management to explain the withdrawal of P138 million in sequestered funds by the bank’s former chairman, Ferdinand Martin Romualdez, gave relief to many stakeholders.

The bank management has a duty to cooperate in tracing and explaining the withdrawal of the amount derived from sequestered shares.

As a publicly listed corporation, the bank’s stakeholders are entitled to full disclosure to dispel rumors that the withdrawal was facilitated by Romualdez using his influence among members of the board when he was chairman.

The money was taken despite a Sandiganbayan ruling on Jan. 19, 2003, that TMEE shares of stock and dividends (both cash and stocks) be held in escrow by the Land Bank of the Philippines while the dispute was being resolved.

* * *

NOT BINDING: Responding to a PCGG order to bring documents on the withdrawal, bank officials submitted Tuesday a copy of a deed of undertaking between EPCIB and TMEE absolving the bank and its officials from any liability, damages, loss or expense should a lawsuit be filed as a result of the withdrawal of P138-million.

It was noted by lawyers, however, that the document is just an agreement between the bank and TMEE and does not necessarily bind the PCGG nor diminish the rights of any other party adversely affected by the withdrawal by Romualdez.

Before the PCGG said it would pursue the case, some sectors had expressed misgivings over its determination to recover the money withdrawn considering that PCGG Commissioner William Dichoso who was on the case had resigned.

Before quitting, Dichoso wrote newly designated EPCIB corporate secretary Sabino Acut Jr. to furnish the anti-graft body pertinent details and documents covering the release of the amount.

Fears that the remaining PCGG commissioners may not be as eager to press recovery were fanned by their publicized disposition to enter into a global out-of-court settlement of all Marcos illegal wealth cases.

* * *

(First published in the Philippine STAR of June 15, 2006)

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