Biz Buzz: A fast one at Clark
Recall that brewing situation over private sector offers for Clark International Airport? We’re talking about the GMR-Megawide consortium seeking government’s clarity after statements from the Department of Transportation that its offer was “discontinued.”
Moreover, the DOTr admitted it was evaluating another Clark offer by the JG Summit and Filinvest group in what appears to be yet another Megawide-Filinvest rivalry that started when GMR-Megawide won the Mactan Cebu Airport public-private partnership deal in 2014.
We heard GMR-Megawide had in fact written a letter to the DOTr to fill in the policy gaps—apparently there are plenty—leading to the present situation.
What we know so far is this.
GMR Megawide, after hearing of the Duterte administration’s willingness to accept unsolicited offers, made its own $5-billion offer to develop and operate Clark for a period of 50 years last July 27, 2016. The consortium believed that Clark, with the proper private sector stimulus, could one day accommodate 100 million passengers a year from just over a million today.
Not much happened since its offer was submitted, and despite some clarification that went unanswered, GMR-Megawide probably assumed that DOTr needed more time to study its proposal.
Fast forward to 2017 and the DOTr revealed that it was evaluating a P187-billion proposal by JG Summit and Filinvest.
What of GMR-Megawide? Its proposal was discontinued because the administration was not yet taking unsolicited deals at the time. It’s an interesting position when you consider that unsolicited projects, while basically ignored by the Aquino administration, can always be submitted under the BOT law. All the GMR-Megawide group is now asking is to understand what happened. When exactly did the DOTr start entertaining unsolicited projects, and why was the group, despite being the first in line, not informed?
GMR-Megawide characteristically played safe when asked to comment, releasing a statement saying they were ready to support the current administration in its infrastructure goals. The six-paragraph statement makes its point, though, by reusing a particular word at least thrice. The word? Transparency. —MIGUEL R. CAMUS
D-Day for G-Lo
All eyes are on tomorrow’s executive session of the Commission on Appointments where it will to decide whether or not Environment Secretary Gina Lopez finally gets her confirmation. The CA would have wanted Lopez to stick around to answer issues raised by a record 23 oppositors who had declared her unfit, but CA chair Sen. Manny Pacquiao said her prior commitment in the US meant the group would have to decide based on the results of last week’s public hearings.
Lopez provided a slick powerpoint presentation outlining her programs for the department and achievements, highlighted by her decision on Feb. 2 to close down 23 mines and suspend five more and her “love offering” announcement on Valentine’s Day to cancel another 75 mining contracts. She also earned brownie points when she showed photos of mining operations ordered closed down for harming the operation of functional watersheds.
However, the media-savvy Lopez proved much less adroit when she veered from her prepared script, with the secretary having to rely on whispered explanations from her aides and notes and documents being passed for her to read to answer questions like the present number of her undersecretaries (said to number 13 versus the allowed plantilla of five undersecretaries).
CA members including Sen. Panfilo Lacson also questioned Lopez on the definition of a mineral production sharing agreement (MPSA), the basic contract between the government and private companies on the extraction and sharing of proceeds from mining operations. Lacson asked if this was a permit or a contract and how the DENR decided on the granting or disapproval of an MPSA. Lopez wanted her trusted adviser, former Mines and Geosciences Bureau director Leo Jasareno, to help in defining this and other terms like open-pit mining, but was forced to soldier on her own.
As a result, CA members appeared unsatisfied by her performance in answering their questions and rebutting the issues raised by the oppositors—a broad spectrum of mining companies, geology students and experts, mining employees and their families and indigenous people’s representatives who make their living from extractive industries.
The CA members were perplexed by Lopez’s definition of a “functional watershed,” a definition that does not appear in any law governing natural resources and mining. Geology experts present pointed out that by Lopez’s loose definition, any area within the country could be considered a watershed, leaving no area allowable for mining. But like in other countries, critical watershed areas that are off-limits to extractive industries are identified by law, which should then be enforced by the DENR to prevent mining in these watersheds.
This led Rep. Josephine Ramirez-Sato to chide Lopez for taking the law in her hands by unilaterally declaring even areas not pinpointed as watersheds under the law as watersheds where mining should not be allowed. Sato, whose dismantling of former Foreign Affairs Secretary Perfecto Yasay on the issue of his American citizenship led to his rejection by the CA last week, advised Lopez to stick to her mandate of enforcing environment laws and to work with Congress for the declaration of new watersheds.
But questions were also raised on Lopez’s arbitrary enforcement of the mineral extraction prohibition in watersheds, with oppositors and CA members asking why certain companies were still allowed by Lopez to operate in watersheds. Picking up on UP Geology professor Carlo Arcilla’s presentation, Sen. Alan Cayetano questioned Lopez on one of her family’s own companies, First Balfour, which reportedly operate an aggregates quarry mining operation in a watershed in Loboc, Batangas.
Lopez initially denied that First Balfour had an MPSA for its operation, leading to loud muttering from the oppositors, but reversed course later and admitted that there was an MPSA, but in the name of another company not owned by the Lopezes. She said the company has not been operating for five months, but later said First Balfour was now merely doing site preparation and “keeping the place clean.”
To which Prof. Arcilla responded: It’s a question of facts. There is a mining company called First Balfour and they’re mining aggregates in Loboc. Second, it’s in a watershed.
Lopez had to sheepishly declare that First Balfour would have to follow the rules and answer to any complaints raised against it.
So how will this all play out? We should know by tomorrow. —DAXIM L. LUCAS
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