Commentary

Pioneering inclusive growth in PH natural gas sector

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“Inclusive growth” has become today’s buzzword. Some say it’s a myth, others say the country is a long way from it. The Philippines’ robust economic growth would have made it easy for many to believe that middle-class comforts are now within the reach of the majority of Filipinos. Studies tell otherwise.

The number of jobless Filipinos is growing, according to the National Statistics Office (NSO) Labor Force Survey. In April this year, unemployment rose to 7.5 percent from 6.9 percent a year ago. The current unemployment rate was the highest since 2010, when jobless rate was 8 percent.

With unemployment comes poverty. A study of the Asian Development Bank and the National University of Singapore concluded that 18 million Filipinos live on just P50 a day.

Poverty and unemployment remain serious social problems that make the reported economic growth  nothing more than a number to many Filipinos.

The responsibility of addressing the Philippine socio-economic disparity does not fall on the government alone. In my 32 years as a professional, life has taught me this lesson: “Kayang-kaya, kung sama-sama” (Together, we are stronger). I have seen great feats that can be achieved by working together. One product of an innovative and prolific public-private partnership is the Malampaya Deep Water Gas-to-Power Project. After 11 years, it remains a pioneering gas project of massive industrial and technological scale that gave birth to the country’s natural gas industry.

Malampaya is now on its next stages of development—the Malampaya Phase 2 (MP2), involving the drilling of two additional gas wells that, together with Malampaya Phase 3’s (MP3) second gas platform, will sustain the level of gas production from the gas field in northwest Palawan. The cleaner-burning natural gas from Malampaya, produced using innovative deepwater technology, fuels three power plants with total capacity of 2,700 megawatts, accounting for 45 percent of Luzon’s generation capacity.

At the time of its construction in 1995, Malampaya’s state-of-the-art deepwater technology was unknown in the Philippines. This called for the assignment of the project management to expatriate experts until 2009, when the first Filipino was given the top position of asset manager. That person was me. Far more than a personal feat, a Filipino at the helm of Malampaya means that a project of this scale and impact can be entrusted to Filipinos.

Why not? Filipinos have proven to all and sundry their resilience in the face of financial crises that cause economic upheaval around the world. While other countries suffer from the setbacks of an ever-changing environment, Filipinos are able to cope and adapt, and even emerge with a stellar 7 percent growth.

Filipinos only need to be empowered and equipped with tools and knowledge they need to enable them to have access to the country’s wealth. The Malampaya consortium, led by the Department of Energy and composed of project operator Shell Philippines Exploration B.V. (SPEX), Chevron Malampaya LLC and Philippine National Oil Co.–Exploration Corp., implements capacity-building training, environmental conservation and other social investment programs through the Malampaya Foundation Inc. (MFI)  to help uplift the lives of the people and make healthier and safer communities.

Our Bridging Employment through Skills Training (BEST) program gives unemployed individuals and out-of-school youths from Palawan, Oriental Mindoro, Batangas and Subic the opportunity to learn vocational skills such as welding, scaffolding and rigging. Close to 1,600 of our BEST scholars have already graduated and are now employed locally and abroad, with some now working at the Keppel Subic Shipyard—the site of the fabrication of the Malampaya Phase 3 gas platform.

We work with communities and groups to help conserve the environment and increase livelihood opportunities. The Livelihood Alternatives and Mariculture-Based Assistance (Lambat) transforms the lives of fisher folk families by providing training programs on environment-friendly methods of mariculture and other feasible supplemental livelihood for coastal communities.

We also made sure we protected the fragile coral reefs and avoided fishing grounds and ancestral domains when we constructed the 504-kilometer pipeline that transports natural gas from Palawan to Batangas, where it is harnessed to become electricity.

On the bigger picture, the gas project generates billions of dollars in government revenue, continuously supplies cleaner energy, reduces oil imports and enables the transfer of technology and expertise to Filipinos who will ultimately enhance our country’s self-sufficiency.

Malampaya and its social investment programs bear our hopes and dreams for the Filipino people and our country. The MP3 gas platform being built at the Keppel shipyard in Subic is the first of its kind to be built on Philippine soil. I see the BEST scholars entrusted with this task—the young, once unemployed men and women who are now making history—and the significance of this moment is not lost in me. For the Philippines, now might be the turning point, and inclusive growth will not just be another buzzword.

The story of Malampaya proves that partnerships, innovations and being a good corporate citizen with compassion and vision are some of the keys to inclusive growth. Beyond presence there is impact, and the measure of our impact will be the positive legacy it leaves. More companies and corporations should strive for inclusive growth to become the best versions of themselves, and in doing so, we can help all Filipinos and the country do the same.

(The author is the managing director of Shell Philippines Exploration B.V.)

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