By: Conrado R. Banal III, March 7th, 2013 02:59 AM

All of a sudden, from out of nowhere, just as the Aquino (Part II) administration struggles with the territorial dispute with China in the West Philippine Sea, another sovereignty issue over Sabah confronts our leader Benigno Simeon (aka BS), that is sagging the country’s image before foreign media.

In other countries, times like these are more likely to unite the citizenry rather than provoke them to trash their leader. Here, certain politicos are trying to disparage our leader, BS, for taking an anti-violence stand on the Sabah issue.

The stance of our Commander-in-Chief is simply to restore prudence and sobriety in the Philippine claim over Sabah, for the simple reason that violence will not solve anything. True, our leader, BS, says he respects the claim of the Sultanate of Sulu over the territory that is now under the rule of the Malaysian government. Still, according to the position enunciated by our leader, BS, over television recently, our disputes with other countries, particularly our neighbors, cannot be resolved just through force, and the right and honorable approach should be diplomacy first.

Question: Is our leader, BS, just trying to do the right thing?

Down here in my barangay, the guys are just as alarmed as any politico can be by the Malaysian military’s audacious use of fighter jets to bomb the Filipino followers of Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram III, but the issue over Sabah may have as much bearing on their daily lives as … well, the plummeting meteor in Russia.

Really, it is just too way above our heads for most of us.

Thus, the critical question remains: Do we believe that sending armed men to Sabah, whether followers of the Sultan of Sulu or the military forces of this republic, with the aim of retaking the resource-rich territory from Malaysia, by hook or by crook, is really the superior idea over, say, nonviolent approach such as diplomacy and legal resolution of the cases in the international forum?

I thought so too.

What then explains the attacks against our leader, BS, for his position in trying to avoid bloodshed in addressing the Sabah issue which, by the way, already escalated to the use of well-trained forces and sophisticated military hardware by one side in the conflict?

To me, in the Philippine claim over Sabah, the Aquino (Part II) administration is just being consistent in its position over territorial disputes, such as the one with China over the West Philippine Sea, which is, of course, “diplomacy first.”

In fact, a dissimilar approach in the Sabah claim, such as a violent confrontation with the Malaysian people, would only weaken the Philippine stand in the other territorial dispute with China.

In both our claims in the West Philippine Sea and in Sabah, the guys down here simply must trust our leader, BS, to go through the peaceful processes—including diplomatic negotiations, good offices, commission of inquiry, arbitration and resort to the International Court of Justice.

After all, the whole darn thing is already an intricate balancing act for our government. We cannot add to the weight that our leader, BS, has to carry.

*   *   *

Uh-oh, now the shoe is on the other foot.

Last week, reports said a deadly landslide, leaving some 45 workers dead and several others missing, occurred at the geothermal site of Energy Development Corp., or EDC, the world’s second-biggest producer of geothermal power, which the Lopez group (Meralco, ABS-CBN and Rockwell Land) acquired from the government.

The question now goes around business circles, particularly the “big” mining and the coal power plant sectors, on whether or not the government, particularly the Department of Energy and Natural Resources—yes, the almighty DENR—would impose tough measures, or even sanctions, on the EDC.

It seems the disastrous landslide occurred in the EDC Leyte site where another Lopez company, First Balfour, had a construction project, although the dead workers actually belonged to the subcontractor, JA Arradaza Construction.

The geothermal field acquired by EDC from the government during the time of the cute administration of Gloriaetta was supposedly the biggest wet steam field in the world covering more than 100,000 hectares.

According to Leyte Governor Mimiette Bagulaya, the EDC site has never been known as a landslide-prone area, so she wanted the LGUs in the province—more than national offices like the DENR—to investigate the cause of what the EDC claimed to be an accident.

The initial reports indicated that top officials of EDC ordered their people to block the entry into the landslide area of well-equipped personnel from the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council, or the NDRRMC, an agency under the Department of National Defense that deals with cases of emergencies and disasters.

Not only that, EDC officials reportedly even prevented LGU rescue volunteers from helping save the victims, although reports—coming much later—suggested that EDC officials finally acceded to the plea of the LGU volunteers to help in the search-and-rescue operations.

In life-or-death situations like the landslide at the EDC site, time is a critical element for the helpless victims. I thought EDC officials should have welcomed the rescue volunteers with wide-open arms, if not hugs and kisses. What could have been their reason?

Like it or not, the geothermal energy business is also an extraction activity, as much as mining and quarrying, for instance, which have been getting all sorts of flak from so-called pro-environment groups.

Recently they attacked with complete abandon the “incident” at the Padcal mine in Benguet province, operated by listed firm Philex in which, at the height of a strong typhoon, one of the tailings ponds of the mining firm supposedly leaked out some waste materials, albeit non-toxic.

Under pressure from the genuine and the bogus pro-environment groups, the DENR had to order the closure of the Padcal mine and, later, imposed a punitive P1-billion fine on the company, on top of another P100-million fine imposed by the Pollution Adjudication Board (PAB) for “violation” of the Clean Water Act.

Then there was the incident in the coal-mining site on Semirara island operated by DMCI, in which people also died and disappeared, prompting the same groups to denounce the negligence of the mining firm, again forcing the government to suspend operations immediately.

Such environment activism is well appreciated by the guys down here in my barangay. The thing is, we are hearing hardly anything from the same groups, not even some incoherent mumble, over the landslide at the EDC site in Leyte.

Part of the group is of course the “eco-warriors” led by Gina Lopez, widely known in media as the role model of pro-environment activists, who happens to belong to the same family running the EDC, which by the way expects its revenue to hit P30 billion this year.

The pro-environment groups are mysteriously mum on the Leyte landslide. Obviously there is no pressure on the government to impose penalties on the company that was formerly owned by the state-run Philippine National Oil Co.

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