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CSR? Nope, more like corporate arrogance

I was told that residents along the road in Barangay Baldoza, Lapaz have started a signature campaign to voice their complaints about the disturbance caused by heavy trucks of La Filipina Uygongco Corp. in hauling raw materials from its private port in Barangay Ingore.
Baldoza becomes the second barangay to complain about the noise.
I asked former Punong Barangay Ernie Poral whether the flour manufacturer has made any efforts to mitigate the rumbling noise of their heavy trucks and shaking of the ground. He said there is no such effort.
I had hoped that after the public hearing conducted by the Committee of the Whole of the Sangguniang Panlungsod two weeks ago, La Filipina Uygongco would take steps to address the complaints.
But it appears the company is oblivious to the disturbance to the community. Last July 24, the hauling operations went on the whole night, and many residents were unable to sleep.
Is this a case of corporate arrogance? I learned the company has a corporate social responsibility (CSR) program. However, its behavior points the other way about its social responsibility.
I hope our City Councilors can schedule a second public hearing so that it can obtain more information about these issues.
Right now, I am waiting for the Philippine Ports Authority (PPA) in Manila to release the documents relative to the company’s application for a permit to build and operate this private port.
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Aksyon Radyo picks up issue on Uygongco private port

I am flattered to know that Aksyon Radyo station manager and anchorman John Paul Tia has picked up the issue on the construction of a private port by La Filipina Uygongco Corp. in Barangay Ingore, Lapaz, Iloilo City.
This is a matter of supreme importance, because as discussed last night by urban development and planner Francis Gentoral, good port facilities are a must for Iloilo City to be competitive.
Uygongco private port

This is the private port built and operated by the La Filipina Uygongco Corp. offshore in Barangay Ingore, Lapaz, Iloilo City.

As it is, the existing Iloilo Commercial Port Complex is congested. On any given day, three or four foreign vessels lay at anchor in the Guimaras Strait to wait for their turn to dock and unload their cargo. Every day of delay is costly; shippers have to pay demurrage (penalty charged by ship owners) an estimated $2,500-3,000 per day of delay.
The reputation of the Iloilo Port is now close to being ruined in the shipping industry. According to my sources, owners of foreign vessels are starting to impose higher than usual demurrage. That means only one thing: Iloilo Port could be treated like a leper by international shipping companies.
This is the core of my expose on the Uygongco Port.
By building a private port near the existing ICPC, it has effectively blocked the room for expansion. This is detrimental to Iloilo’s economy. Also, it gave Uygongco unfair advantage over other companies who depend on the ICPC for their shipping requirements.
Right now, what is highlighted is the complaint of residents of Barangay Ingore about the noise and disturbance of the heavy equipment hauling soya, sorghum and wheat that are unloaded at the private port.
These are the raw materials for the manufacture of flour.
I am waiting for the Philippine Ports Authority to furnish me with all the records and documents relative to the grant of the permit to construct and operate to Uygongco.
There have been short-cuts made, and violations of the law may have been committed.
I think the business community should be interested in this issue.
Again, just for the record, I have nothing against Uygongco building its private port. It can build one twice or thrice the size of this one. My point is that such private port must be situated outside of the port development area for the ICPC.

No public consultation

The public consultation process has been enshrined in our laws with regard to applications for environmental compliance certificates and the exploitation of our natural resources. Even small-time riverbed quarrying is subject to the social acceptance principle to make sure that development is always balanced with public welfare and sustainable utilization of natural resources.

Hence, it came as a big surprise, and shock, for me when I learned that the private port development project of the La Filipina Uygongco Corp. in barangay Ingore, Lapaz, Iloilo City did not go through a consultation with residents of the area. In an arrogant manner, Atty. Ana Lea Uy, chief legal counsel of the company, told local officials that the endorsement made by the City Council for this project four years ago was compliance to the public consultation requirement.

I’m sorry to tell Atty. Uy that it fails to satisfy that requirement. In fact, the city council should review its passage of the resolution because it was apparently done without much forethought about its long-term effects. The resolution was “muscled through” upon the intervention of a hefty politician from Iloilo City at the height of his power. Now, the short-cut taken by La Filipina Uygongco is coming back at them.

That’s because residents of Barangay Ingore are now up in arms over the anxiety and sleepless nights the hauling operations of the Uygongco company has brought upon them these last two years or so. Apparently, La Filipina Uygongco Corp. must have felt it was immune from public criticism now that they have the permit to operate the port.

That’s a wrong way of viewing the situation. The residents may have kept quiet for a while. But their suffering must have reached breaking point, and with the leadership of former Punong Barangay Ernie Poral, they filed a formal complaint before the City Council regarding the noise and road vibration during hauling operations. The issues raised are valid, and the City Council decided to convene as a Committee of the Whole to hear the complaint.

Several points were unearthed during the hearing on Thursday, July 12, 2018:

  • The company’s application for a Miscellaneous Lease Agreement (MLA) has as yet been approved. This is the legal instrument that would grant La Filipina Uygongco Corp. authority to utilize the 8,447 sqm. covered by its application and build a private port. Now it’s clearly of the cart before the horse. The port is finished and operating while the MLA application is still pending.
  • The PPA had issued a certificate of registration and temporary permit to operate to La Filipina Uygongco Corp. on January 14, 2017. But the port began operations in 2016, according to its own executives who attended the hearing. The company representatives claimed the PPA issued a provisionary permit to operate. They failed to present it during the hearing.
  • Company executive Francis de la Cruz insisted that the Environmental Management Bureau (EMB) had given them a passing grade on the noise level in the area. He also said he has slept in the vicinity and didn’t experience sleepless nights. When asked exactly where had he slept, de la Cruz answered that it was inside the port complex itself, and not in the barangay where heavy trucks rumbled through the night.
  • A DENR official said just recently, Secretary Roy Cimatu had issued a policy that nobody will be allowed to enter an area subject of an MLA application until such time that it is approved. The company insisted that it was already given provisional authority to enter and develop their port.
  • And most important of all, this project obtained the requirements for the construction and operation WITHOUT PUBLIC CONSULTATION. This is a requirement enshrined in our laws. Just on that basis, I think Secretary Roy Cimatu of DENR should disapprove the MLA application and for the PPA to rescind the permit to operate. The PPA should then take over the operations of the private port. La Filipina Uygongco knew the risks of proceeding without fulfilling the requirements, especially the public consultatoin. It will have to pay for its gamble.

The City Council must take the first step of asserting the rule of law and protecting the welfare of its constituents. I would urge its members to withdraw the endorsement given to the project four years ago which was obtained through political strong-arm tactics. As concession, La Filipina Uygongco can be given preferential rights for docking, but the PPA should run it, and allow other foreign vessels chartered by other companies to dock there.

 

Uygongco’s private port

It was only two weeks ago that I discovered there’s a private port now operating offshore of Barangay Ingore, Lapaz, Iloilo City. I was talking with Atty. Eduardo Jalbuna, who is the lawyer for cement and hotel entrepreneur Boy So (of the La Carmela de Boracay fame), about the congestion at the Iloilo Commercial Port Complex in Barangay Loboc.

This congestion was made apparent during a trip by pumpboat to Buenavista, Guimaras recently. I saw three or four foreign vessels laying at anchor on the Guimaras Strait. I have heard about importers hurting badly from the demurrage they have to pay to owners of chartered vessels for delays in unloading their cargo. Owners of chartered vessels also don’t like making Iloilo a port of call because their schedules are turned topsy-turvy.

Uygongco private port

This is the private port built and operated by the La Filipina Uygongco Corp. offshore in Barangay Ingore, Lapaz, Iloilo City.

Definitely such a situation does not augur well for Iloilo City, especially as it now positions itself as the new hub for trade and commerce in Central Philippines. And the Philippine Ports Authority (PPA) is fully aware of this handicap of the ICPC being inadequate for the city’s growing needs for shipping. If Iloilo City wants to become a major player for the export market, its port facilities should be upgraded to accommodated more and bigger ships.

As far back as 20 years ago, I have heard PPA talk about building a longer berthing pier and reclaiming land for cargo handling at the ICPC. But it’s obvious its efforts to achieve that goal has fallen behind the growth of cargo ship traffic. The number of vessels laying at anchor and charging demurrage to importers is enough proof of that. That failure directly affects the ability of the city to fulfill its potential. It cannot grow fast enough without bigger and better port facilities.

ships at anchor off iloilo port

Foreign vessels lay at anchor in the Guimaras Strait to wait for berthing space to be vacated at the Iloilo Commercial Port Complex. Each day that these ships wait at anchor cost shippers demurrage charges of $2,500 per day of delay.

Hence, the construction of this private port by La Filipina Uygongco is detrimental to the interest of Iloilo City’s economy. What is objectionable isn’t the fact that the flour maker built its own port; it has every right to do that. But building it in the expansion area for the ICPC is what makes it wrong. The private port is sitting right on where the expansion of the ICPC should be.

The PPA has a lot of explaining to do on this issue. My sources told me that Uygongco has long attempted to get a certificate of no objection from PPA, but was always turned down. Then, in 2014, somebody so powerful in the Aquino administration twisted arms at the PPA to force its top management to drop its objection to the private port. It’s that simple. A powerful politician who claims he wants Iloilo City to grow and prosper is also the same person who thwarted it.

I have asked the DENR to provide me with a copy of the Miscellaneous Lease Agreement (MLA) that would give it authority to build the private port in the foreshore area. My sources told me the MLA application is still pending approval. If this is true, then why did the Uygongco flour company just go ahead and build the private port? That’s putting the horse ahead of the cart. And that would put PPA officials involved in the grant of a permit to operate (temporary) in deep, deep trouble.

 

 

Ilonggos at the fore

Two big news stories placed Iloilo in the national limelight this week: the first was the appointment of His Excellency, Most Reverend Msgr. Jose Palma of Dingle, Iloilo, as the new Archbishop of Cebu to replace His Eminence, Ricardo Cardinal Vidal, upon his retirement. The other is the buy-out of a 70%-controlling interest of the Ilonggo food chain, Mang Inasal, by the Jollibee Food Corp. for P3 billion.

Ilonggos have always achieved great heights in every field of endeavor. In politics, we have two prominent Senators: Franklin M. Drilon and Miriam Defensor Santiago. In the House of Representatives, 2nd termer Rep. Niel Tupas Jr. (5th district, Iloilo) is emerging as another important political figure with his battle to proceed with the impeachment of Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez.

In business, particularly media, we have the Lopez family-controlled ABS-CBN network and Bombo Radyo Network of Dr. Roger Florete. In the flour business, the Uygongcos are giving the traditional giants stiff competition. Indeed, there is hardly a business, profession or field where an Ilonggo isn’t among the trend-setters. In literature, arts, music, we are also there.

This is yet another moment to feel proud about being an Ilonggo.