Olongapo SubicBay BatangGapo Newscenter

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

South Korean invasion

South Korean invasion: Part II
Opinion Written by Omerta / Butch del Castillo - Business Mirror

In my previous column (“The South Korean Invasion,” June 26 issue), I wrote about how the Jisan Mining Corp. of South Korea despoiled the black-sand beaches and adjoining farmlands of six coastal towns in Cagayan, home province of Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile. The piece was based on accounts of irate Cagayan residents supporting a courageous town executive, Buguey Mayor Ignacio M. Taruc, who was recently suspended by the provincial government (ostensibly for simple misconduct).

That mining company had found in those black-sand beaches an incredibly rich source of magnetite. Magnetite is a mineral used by South Korea’s giant steel industry in the iron-smelting process.

Over and above the violent objections of the people of Cagayan—but with the help of unusually accommodating municipal and provincial authorities—Jisan Mining was able to literally slice off, and send home, the once-pristine beachfronts which Cagayan folk used to be proud of.

This unspeakable deed, of course, couldn’t have been committed without the consent of the local officials of that province. A reader identified in his blog only as “Subicslugger” has aptly said, “The major problem with Koreans in the Philippines is the fact that Filipino officials let the Koreans do whatever they want…. All it takes is a couple of white envelopes.” The Koreans (Jisan Mining, Subic Bay High Rise), he adds, have little regard for the environment and even less regard for the local population. (I agree completely, except that brown manila envelopes, not small white ones, may have actually figured in the Cagayan scenario.)

That blogger is right on the nose. No bribery can occur if there are no takers. Another blogger with the handle “gbevers” said: …“The problem is that both Filipinos and Koreans seem more willing to sacrifice the environment to the Money god. In other words, Filipinos and Koreans are a perfect match. Koreans love giving bribes, and Filipinos love taking them.”

And that’s probably one of the major reasons South Koreans have been coming in droves over the past few years. (The other reason is a Korean won can buy here much more than it can back home; even the financially challenged are strutting around like big shots in Manila.)

Danilo C. Almeda, the Bureau of Immigration’s chief immigration officer in charge of the Alien Registration Division confirms that South Koreans have long displaced the Japanese, Chinese and Indians in terms of tourist, immigrant and non-immigrant arrivals in the Philippines. In fact, he says, in the first six months of the year, South Korean arrivals were the second most numerous and fast catching up with the number of arrivals from the United States—a number that includes a heavy mix of Pinoy balikbayan with dual citizenships.

Almeda says owing to the open-arms policy of the government encouraging tourists and investors to come in, visas are freely given to South Koreans. Asked if their burgeoning numbers in the country have not begun to worry the BI, he says “our role is to step in only when any of them run afoul with local laws or otherwise behave in undesirable ways.”

The Philippines, to be sure, has become a favorite destination, especially of South Korean youngsters. We are told that many of them are sent here by well-off parents to study to help them escape or avoid compulsory two-year military service in their country. The rosters of private schools are now fatter with the names of South Korean enrollees from the grade-school to tertiary levels.

But besides the students, businessmen big-time and small, also love it here for a singular reason. They are like migrating birds that have discovered a vast pond where they can settle down for a spell of feasting.

They like our bureaucratic setup and the culture of corruption in which it operates. They have delightfully discovered how easily corruptible our officials are. Like what gbevers said, they love to give bribes and our officials love taking them, a perfect match! Thus, businessmen come here, secure in the knowledge that local rules and laws are easily bended or ignored if you know to which official to hand over those white or brown envelopes.

Jisan Mining has gotten away with its despicable deed simply because it got plenty of help from the officials of the province. Cagayan Gov. Alvaro T. Antonio, according to the residents, has been accused of violating the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act for his role in the destruction of those black beaches. Whether or not the case before the Ombudsman’s office would prosper is anybody’s guess. We can only be consoled by the fact that the people of Cagayan will long remember him as the provincial leader under whose watch the destruction of these once-pristine beaches was tolerated.

The rape of Cagayan’s scenic beaches is only one of the major tragedies being caused by the South Korean invasion that I speak of. Unless we can muster the political will to whip them into line, this is just the beginning of a long series of similar debacles, I’m afraid.

One need not strain to find another example of how South Korean businessmen are flouting local rules and laws with impunity. Witness how we have paid so heavy a price in exchange for the $1-billion ship-building facility built by Hanjin Heavy Industries & Construction-Philippines at the Subic Bay industrial enclave in the former US naval base. Since the construction of this mammoth shipbuilding facility began in 2006, 26 Filipino workers have died in various industrial accidents.

Our senators, notably Sen. Jinggoy Estrada, investigated the unusually high rate of industrial accidents—tallied at some 5,000 over less than three years. The Estrada committee found that Hanjin in several instances violated our labor laws and neglected to adopt standard safety measures required in projects of such magnitude. The investigation—which included a well-publicized inspection by the son of former President Joseph Estrada—was conducted in March this year.

Estrada’s Senate panel found out for themselves that the workers’ safety was, indeed, being compromised. Lapses included workers not wearing safety equipment, lack of full-time doctors on-site, lack of safety inspections, little safety-training time, and indiscriminate hiring of sub-contractors in Hanjin’s rush to finish the facility’s construction.

The Estrada committee also found out that actual ship-building began while the facility had yet to be fully constructed, a situation that presented so many dangers to its 1,800 workers. (In South Korean culture, rough treatment of workers is an ordinary thing. This was the confession made by Jeong Sup Shim, company president, before a Senate hearing. He was quoted as saying, “in our country, the military culture still remains and exists, especially in the construction side.” Which reminds us of how the Egyptian Pharaohs thought nothing of sacrificing the lives of many thousands of slaves to build their burial sites—the great pyramids.

But what’s funny is that nothing more has been heard about the safety issue even as more and more industrial accidents occur at Hanjin with frightening regularity. The Senate panel concluded its investigation by giving Hanjin the equivalent of a light slap on the wrist. Funnier still is the apologia offered by a Department of Labor official who said the industrial deaths were largely the fault of Filipino workers unaccustomed to such massive industrial undertakings.

The South Koreans, it seems, have mastered the art of getting whatever they want from the government authorities. It’s the art of pinpointing, and greasing, whichever wheel in the bureaucratic machinery may be squeaking. It’s not solely their fault, no sir. We Filipinos are equally to blame for being such big suckers.

And that’s not all. Hanjin Heavy Industries has also won other big infrastructure jobs for the government. It has won government contracts to build roads, a mass rail-transit system and complex dam and irrigation systems. In other words, Hanjin now has a formidable presence in many big-ticket undertakings—especially those to be funded by official development assistance from the South Korean government. It has learned only too well that without the backing of our top government officials, it cannot hope to get anywhere in this country. To Hanjin, this is the least of its problems.

Greasing whichever wheel in the government machinery is squeaky has apparently become standard operating procedure for Hanjin. A concrete example is the project it bagged to put up a diversion dam in Catubig, Bulao and Hagbay in Northern Samar. This is a project that calls for the building of an irrigation and drainage system, including steel gates under Contract No. HCAAP-C-1.

Hanjin earlier committed to finish the project by March next year, or shortly before the May presidential elections. So far, however, it has completed only 13.85 percent of the project. It has consumed 60 percent of its allotted time but has done too little so far, prompting Carlos Salazar, chief of the National Irrigation Administration (NIA), to demand that Hanjin yield the project to the NIA. In the bureaucratic jargon any project delay is redundantly called a “negative slippage,” forcing Salazar to announce that the NIA was taking over the project phases that Hanjin obviously couldn’t deliver on time. Salazar’s ultimatum had a tone of finality of a Supreme Court ruling: “We are constrained to invoke the provision in our contract documents, Article GC-22, NIA’s Right to Take Over or Delete Part of Contract work.”

The letter was addressed to Myung Goo Kwon, country director and general manager of Hanjin. He told Kwon his letter was merely formalizing what he had earlier told Hanjin project manager Deok Weon Lim that NIA was taking over the Bulao and Hagbay portions of the project so that Hanjin could concentrate on the Catubig portion.

The farmers tilling 4,550 hectares of land in Northern Samar have long been looking forward to the completion of this dam and its irrigation facilities. It would be a big boon, their sole hope of ever wrenching themselves from the grip of poverty.

But to the Hanjin executives, the fulminations of Salazar were hardly a problem. They merely went over Salazar’s head and presto (!)—they won a 158-day reprieve that moved the project’s completion date to August 25, 2010, instead of March 31, as they had earlier promised.

Clearly, Hanjin and the other South Korean companies doing business in this country have become past masters in the manipulation of our bureaucracy. What’s very sad is we have only ourselves to blame for this.
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By the way, there were seventeen persons ( Hanjin sub-contractors ) brought to the hospital yesterday, one of them dead, after a boom truck they were riding lost control at Cawag, Subic, Zambales

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