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/ 12:39 AM October 03, 2011

Pacific Nickel Philippines, which for the past 15 years has been feasting on the 25,000-hectare Surigao mineral reservation in Mindanao, has resumed shipment of minerals to China despite the DENR suspension of its mining license.

Three months ago, the DENR suspended the license of Pacific Nickel Philippines—owner of Philnico which, in turn, owns the right to operate the Surigao mine—after it failed to pay the $300 million owed by its parent firm to the government.

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To date, Philnico was able to remit to the government only a little more than $1 million.

Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima had asked the DENR to suspend the mining license of Philnico. The DENR order was, however, negated by the RTC in Surigao with a TRO. From what I gathered from our sources in the mining sector, Pacific Nickel Philippines has already resumed shipping mine tailings to China.

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The biggest question in the mining sector is this: Why did the Aquino (Part II) administration not fight the TRO issued by the Surigao RTC from the start?

The collection case filed by the government against Philnico has been hanging for the past several years now, giving the Pacific Nickel group all the time they want to exploit the mineral reservation, as they have reportedly earned billions of pesos by this time already.

Do you mean to tell me that our government is helpless when it comes to fighting court decision against its interests?

Another bothering issue is the executive order proposed by the DENR to our leader Benigno Simeon (a.k.a. BS), submitted to the Palace more than a year ago. The DENR wanted BS to declare that all “mine tailings” belong to the state.

That simple order would have prevented Philnico, and those behind it (such as the owners of Pacific Nickel Philippines, including the group of Salvador “Buddy” Zamora of Hinatuan Mining), from making a killing by selling millions of tons of Philnico tailings to the buyers in China.

Our contacts estimate the tailings to be worth at least P4 billion. How much of the tailings in the Philnico mines have already been shipped to China and the fantastic sums of money involved should be an interesting issue for congressional investigation.

To free Philnico from the burden of its commercial loans, the government in the 1990s absorbed all its debts worth about P13 billion. This means taxpayers had to pay for them.

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Our leader, BS the “Buko Vendor,” would perhaps not even bother to read the mining EO proposed by the DENR simply because it could give the government a fighting chance against the maneuverings of the Philnico bright guys.

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The ongoing media war between Globe Telecom and PLDT (owner of Smart Telecom) is now shifting to allegations of illegal use of radio frequencies.

The latest tirade came from PLDT, accusing Globe before the National Telecommunications Commisssion, or the NTC, the policeman of the telecommunications sector, that Globe used radio frequencies that it only leased from a company called Altimax.

Earlier, Globe made a lot of noise about the Supreme Court ruling that, in effect, made out PLDT as majority-owned by foreigners, through Hong Kong-based First Pacific of Manuel Pangilinan. The Ayala-owned Globe even egged the government to revoke the franchises and licenses of PLDT.

In return, PLDT has responded with the claim that Globe illegally acquired radio frequencies from Altimax, which technically lost the right to use those frequencies because it failed to comply with the NTC requirements.

From what I heard, Sen. Jinggoy Estrada, chair of the Senate public services committee, had already called for hearings to look into the claim of PLDT. This media war is getting more interesting.

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Quietly but surely, the new group behind the Sulo Hotel in Quezon City is trying to invest in the hotel’s most valuable asset: its name recall.

After buying the four-star hotel from the Enriquez family, the group is now planning to construct “Sulo”-named hotels in Lucena City and another in Tagaytay City.

Take note that while the group renamed the hotel as “Sulo Riviera,” they kept the “Sulo” brand, the same name known among government offices in the Quezon Circle area (such as the BIR, DENR, DAR, DA, Quezon City hall), and even among newsmen since the 1970s.

It is at the Sulo Hotel that our late dear friend, Julius Fortuna, who wrote a political column in another newspaper, organized the weekly Sulo Hotel forum that provided a constant source of information to a lot of newsmen.

The “Sulo” name already commands a premium, and the new owner of the hotel perhaps made the right decision to keep it.

The new owner is the Cuevas group, a low-profile but highly diversified conglomerate in insurance, construction, property development, services and now the hotel industry.

Possibly the most well-known among the companies in the Cuevas group is the Amalgamated Motors Philippines, or AMPI, which for the past 27 years has been the sole supplier of the plastic driver’s license issued by the LTO.

AMPI reportedly invested more than P800 million in the new technology for the LTO contract, such as digital cameras in all LTO kiosks in commercial places like malls.

The man behind the Cuevas group is the low-profile Felimon Cuevas, who is perhaps more famous as the brother of former Justice Secretary Serafin Cuevas.

Actually, Felimon is a self-made businessman, starting his climb in the business world with a small sari-sari store in Parañaque as a young man. His first big break came when his brother Serafin asked for help in managing a losing gas station. The young Felimon turned it around in no time. The experience led him to venture in the fuel distribution business, particularly in the fuel transport sector. At one time, the young Felimon had about 70 tankers, even serving the US military bases in Clark and Subic.

As for the new “Sulo Riviera” venture, I cannot wait to see how the golden touch of Felimon will transform the brand into a nationwide chain of hotels.

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TAGS: Business, competition, hotels, Mining and quarrying, mining issues, Pacific Nickel Philippines, Real Estate, Telecommunications
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