corporate social responsibility

[OPINION] Time for San Miguel president Ramon Ang to speak up on Mindoro oil spill, show ‘malasakit’ 

Isagani de Castro Jr.

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[OPINION] Time for San Miguel president Ramon Ang to speak up on Mindoro oil spill, show ‘malasakit’ 
The Philippines’ 9th richest person has yet to confirm or deny a Rappler report that one of the conglomerate’s subsidiaries chartered MT Princess Empress

On Thursday, March 16, diversified conglomerate San Miguel Corporation will hold its combined analysts’ briefing with its other listed companies – Petron Corporation, San Miguel Food and Beverage Incorporated, and Ginebra San Miguel Incorporated. 

All four companies have recovered from the negative impact of the COVID-19 lockdowns and are expected to report on their healthy balance sheets. 

Thursday would also be a perfect time for SMC President and CEO Ramon Ang to speak up on the Mindoro oil spill, which is already damaging the marine environment and ruining the livelihood of over 37,000 families or more than 180,000 individuals in Mindoro, Palawan, and Western Visayas.

On March 13, Rappler reported that a San Miguel Shipping and Lighterage Corporation subsidiary – SL Harbor Bulk Terminal Corporation – was the charterer of oil tanker MT Princess Empress, which sank off Oriental Mindoro with 800,000 liters of industrial fuel oil, also called “black oil.” 

Rappler reached out to the conglomerate by email several times but it has not responded to our question if SL Harbor Bulk Terminal Corp. was indeed the charterer. San Miguel’s fuel and oil firm, Petron Corp., has said it does not own the industrial fuel oil MT Princess Empress was carrying, and that it no longer produces this toxic oil.

If SL Harbor Bulk Terminal Corp. wasn’t the charterer, then perhaps Ang should explain why MT Princess Empress left SL Harbor Terminal, a port its subsidiary operates in Limay, Bataan. Was MT Princess Empress carrying another company’s “black oil”? Rappler could be wrong, and we would own up to it in case San Miguel belies our story.

Under the Oil Compensation Act of 2007, the charterer is not liable for pollution damage, so the law is actually on the side of San Miguel.

Time to show ‘malasakit’

But as the Philippines’ largest diversified conglomerate that trumpets corporate social responsibility, Mr. Ang can mobilize resources to help in the cleanup in a big way.

Petron has said that it has facilitated the deployment of oil spill equipment through the Waterborne Industry Oil Spill Equipment Philippines, and extended assistance to the Philippine Coast Guard and the environment department. However, Ang can definitely do more.

According to Forbes Media, Ang, with a net worth of $2.45 billion, was the 9th richest Filipino based on its 2022 list of Philippines’ 50 richest. 

Publicly listed San Miguel Food and Beverage posted a record P34.7 billion profit in 2022. Ginebra San Miguel Inc.’s net income was P4.5 billion in 2022. San Miguel Brewery Inc.’s consolidated net income reached P21.8 billion also in 2022. 

It appears that the conglomerate can step up and do more for the communities affected by the oil spill.

A Senate hearing on Tuesday, March 14, found that the shipowner RDC was deficient in its amended Certificate of Public Convenience (CPC) for its vessels. Senators expressed doubts the company would be able to claim their insurance. (Updated: This, however, has not turned out to be the case. The insurance claims process began on March 27.)

Now is an opportune time for Mr. Ang to assist in helping affected coastal families suffering from loss of livelihood from fishing and tourism-related activities. 

Ang’s conglomerate is actually engaged in several laudable green projects.

For instance, it has been helping clean up the Pasig River and has allocated P2 billion for this massive endeavor. San Miguel says it has removed one million metric tons of silt and solid wastes from the waterway as of February 2023.

In the 2006 Guimaras Island oil spill, it was Petron which chartered the oil tanker MT Solar 1, and the company reportedly spent around P200 million for the cleanup and cash-for-work for affected families. Petron was then owned by Saudi Aramco.

Equally laudable are the projects of San Miguel Foundation, such as scholarships. “As a company, San Miguel Corp. invests in social projects not only because it makes good business sense, but because the private sector needs to do its part. If the cities and communities we serve are thriving, San Miguel will thrive too,” its website says. 

San Miguel says the value of “malasakit (concern) manifests itself in everything we do.” 

“We are San Miguel. Guided by a strong sense of social, environmental, and economic responsibility, our businesses will lead efforts to deliver on national goals, setting the pace of progress in the Philippines,” the company says. 

Will Mr. Ang now show more concern for the environment and affected families in Mindoro, Antique, and Palawan? – Rappler.com

(Note: This article has been updated to reflect developments in the Oriental Mindoro oil spill since the article was published. In addition, reference to Mr. Ang as San Miguel Corporation’s COO has been corrected to him being the CEO.)

The author is a senior copy editor of Rappler.com. He retired last year as the longest serving editor-in-chief of ABS-CBN News online. He started his journalism career in the now defunct Business Day newspaper and joined Newsbreak in 2008.

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Isagani de Castro Jr.

Before he joined Rappler as senior desk editor, Isagani de Castro Jr. was longest-serving editor in chief of ABS-CBN News online. He had reported for the investigative magazine Newsbreak, Asahi Shimbun Manila, and Business Day. He has written chapters for books on politics, international relations, and civil society.