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An Independence Day gift to CARAGA

I MISSED submitting this column for last Friday because I was caught up in an activity at the Philippine Red Cross last Thursday, one that is close to my heart for many reasons.

First, the activity I was caught up in involved the donation of eighteen million pesos (P18 Million) by Taganito HPAL Corporation (THPAL), Taganito Mining Corporation (TMC) and Cagdianao Mining Corporation (CMC) to the Red Cross for the establishment of the first and only molecular test laboratory in Surigao City that will be able to process PCR tests for COVID-19 in the Caraga/Eastern Mindanao region. To date, Caraga has to depend on MTL facilities in Davao, Cebu or Manila for the processing of tests.

The project of the mining firms is a result of an agreement between THPAL President Masahiro Kamiya and Nickel Asia Corporation (NAC) President Dennis Zamora to use part of the annual social development (SDMP) funds that the law mandates mining operations spend for community development for this special, and pressing, purpose. NAC is the mother company of both TMC and CMC; it also has a 10% equity in THPAL, the largest nickel processing plant in the Philippines.

TMC and THPAL operate in the municipality of Claver, Surigao del Norte, while CMC is in the town of Valencia, the Dinagat Island Provinces.

The idea for the lab came out of a brainstorming session that Zamora led with two associates in response to the challenge of how best to help the mining communities protect themselves against COVID-19. Previously, the companies had donated sacks of rice and canned goods to the municipal and provincial governments; what else could be done? Why not a lab, someone asked during the brainstorming; wouldn’t it be a good legacy project? It would also be an excellent proof point of how responsible mining operators care for their communities.

There was no further debate.

Zamora took the idea to Kamiya-san inasmuch as THPAL, as a processing company, has a much larger annual SDMP budget.

With the blessings of the DENR-MGB, particularly MGB Region XIII Director Glenn Noble, the companies were able to set aside the amount needed by the Red Cross to be able to set up a fully functional lab within the shortest possible time.

I am proud to say I am an employee of NAC, and that I am one of those in the brainstorming session with our president. And this is part of why the project means a lot to me.

But the project also reunited me with Richard Gordon, who I first met in 1984 when I was speechwriter and legislative assistant to Assemblyman Renato L. Cayetano. Gordon at that time was the 40-year-old mayor of Olongapo City. That friendship has endured nearly four decades and during that period of time I also had a short stint as legislative assistant to Rep. Katherine Gordon during her freshman year in Congress, and another short stint as Gordon’s chief of staff at SBMA in 1994. So yes, we were old friends (literally and figuratively old) meeting up at the PRC office last Thursday, and it became an opportunity to trade old “war stories” as well as talk about today’s challenges and those of the future.

It made things even more memorable that I encountered two more “old friends” : former DOH Sec Paulyn Ubial, who was my classmate in nursery school, grade school and high school who is now with the PRC, and Elizabeth Zavalla, PRC sec-gen, another “old” friend from the Olongapo days.

I regret that at the ceremonial turnover of the funds by THPAL and the NAC companies, Dennis Zamora was unable to make it due to a bad stomach, and instead requested me and Atty. Ryan Jornada, our company AVP for Government Relations, to stand in for him.

But at the back of my head I cannot shake off the thought that this was in part intentional on the part of Dennis – not being a leader who wants the stage all to himself, I suspect he was happy to cede center stage to both Ryan and me because we were the two with him doing the brainstorming. And this was his way of “thanking” us by putting us front and center.

And what a worthy project on the eve of the 122nd anniversary of Philippine independence, don’t you agree? I am proud to be part of it, and I am excited for the people of CARAGA!

Mabuhay and happy birthday, PILIPINAS!

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