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Biz Buzz: Energy shakeout

/ 02:52 AM February 25, 2013

An organizational restructuring at the Department of Energy is apparently leaving some employees “demoralized to the point of wanting to resign.”

The latest movement was the appointment of a lawyer Rino E. Abad as director of Energy Resources Development Bureau (EDRB)—a move that, some disgruntled employees claimed, had sidelined longtime employees like ERDB assistant director Ismael Ocampo. What made matters worse was the Feb. 20 memorandum issued by Energy Secretary Carlos Jericho Petilla stating that Ocampo would be the new “In-Charge of Office” (ICO) for the ERDB, and named an alternate, Nenito Jariel Jr. The ICO title, it was alleged, refers to one in charge of mainly administrative work of signing attendance slips and leave forms.

Ocampo, a geologist who has worked with the DOE since 1979, confirmed by phone such realignment and the nature of his new work as ICO, further admitting to being demoralized. “Kami ang magtratrabaho. Sila ang tatanggap ng allowances (We are the ones working, but others will receive the allowances),” he said.


One informed observer noted that the appointment of Abad was made by the new DOE management without any consultation with the ERDB personnel, thus not taking into consideration the technical demands of the position. “The ERDB deals with upstream coal, oil, and gas operations, which can only be led by a person who has technical background and who has earned years of expertise in energy exploration, development and production,” the observer said.

The Inquirer sought to get Petilla’s side on the matter but repeated calls and texts were unanswered.

Another DOE employee said: “It would have been OK if [Abad was appointed] to a lower position, but they’re putting people in very sensitive positions—people who do not have a background at all in energy.”—Amy R. Remo

Finance superstars

After a jampacked investment forum featuring “playboy” economist Nouriel Roubini late last month, the Metrobank group’s investment banking unit First Metro Investment Corp. has grand plans for its next forum. FMIC aspires to pluck three “rock stars” out of the global financial world to bring to town sometime in the foreseeable future.

These rock stars include American investment gurus Warren Buffet and George Soros. Buffet, the idol of many fund managers, is deemed as the most successful investor of the 20th century while Soros is a hedge fund billionaire (some say currency speculator) a.k.a. “the man who broke the Bank of England” who bagged a $1-billion windfall from the UK currency crisis of 1992.

The third keynote speaker that FMIC aspires to bring to town—which is increasingly becoming a favored playground for portfolio managers—is no less than US Federal Reserve Chair Ben Bernanke. But Bernanke may only be able to fly if his term—which ends in January 2014—will not be extended.  There are reports in the United States that Bernanke will not accept a third term despite Obama’s reelection. If so, his schedule may just open up for a trip to the Far East and speak before a discerning Filipino audience.

You can guess that any of these three rock stars may command a much higher price per head to listen to over lunch than most other foreign speakers who have recently set foot on Philippine soil.—Doris C. Dumlao


Free rare earth elements

It may be entangled in a legal dispute with businessman Roberto Ongpin, but Norwegian-based Intex Resources ASA is trying to take the initiative by winning plus points with the public.

The company, which operates Mindoro Nickel Mining, says that it can produce much-coveted rare earth elements (REEs) for the country for—get this—free.

The announcement came on the heels of reports that the Philippines was dead-set on exploring REEs to take advantage of China’s move to cut REE production for the global market. REEs are a group of elements used in a wide range of everyday products including hard drives, Ipods, wind turbines, hybrid cars, fiber optics and energy-efficient fluorescent bulbs, among others. Their properties, notably as lightweight magnets, make them key to the miniaturization of electronics and the growth of green technologies.

Last year, the country’s plan to produce REEs was stalled after Beijing reneged on earlier commitments to help Manila despite several “reminders” by the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB). This followed a dispute between Manila and Beijing over the Panatag Shoal in the West Philippine Sea.

The Philippines is conducting its own exploration surveys in Nueva Vizcaya and Palawan, where rare earth deposits were found to be close to copper-gold mines. The MGB said the Aquino government has earmarked P20 million for the development of REEs.

Intex chief Jon Steen Petersen says that REEs like the element scandium can be produced by Mindoro Nickel without additional mining costs, as a byproduct that can provide 100 tons of scandium a year and similar amounts of other REEs. This may open up new opportunities as the supply of scandium today is constrained by its prohibitive price of $150 a gram.

As the mining and transport costs are already paid by other metals, scandium and REEs come as a bonus, in addition to the fertilizer and other premiums that Mindoro Nickel already is offering.

This makes economic sense and can also put the Philippines on the map as a major producer of scandium and REEs. Interesting proposition. Now, will the government take the offer? That’s the million-dollar question.—Daxim L. Lucas


A high-profile CEO is receiving flak for recent public remarks described by many who heard it as “uncouth,” “tactless,” and undeserving of his rank as an official from one of the country’s top conglomerates.

Taking the stage in a high-end club in Taguig during a product launch, this CEO took a potshot at his competitor in a way that raised more than just a few eyebrows.

“I don’t know a lot of good-looking people that are their customers,” the CEO said, implying that most of his rival’s patrons were ugly. The CEO, of course, has had a reputation for “shooting from the hip,” so to speak.

In all fairness, the CEO probably felt that he was among good friends, and for the most part, he was. His media handlers were also strangely absent. It also probably didn’t help that the open bar at the event’s VIP section was stocked with bottles of Johnnie Walker Blue Label.

Commenting on the CEO’s remark, one blogger said “this gives me the impression that the company is desperately struggling against their competitors. When I heard it, my jaw dropped.”—Paolo Montecillo

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TAGS: appointment, Business, Department of Energy, financial forum, First Metro Investment Corp., government offices and agencies, Intex Resources ASA, Ismael Ocampo, Philippines, rare earth, Rino E. Abad, tactless CEO
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