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Hanjin and NSC parallels

Nora Soriño . 

ILIGAN City — What is happening to Hanjin Heavy Industries and Construction Corp. Philippines has a parallel story in this city. That might as well be the story of the National Steel Corp. in several aspects.

The latter collapsed under the weight of its debts, just like Hanjin, to the tune of P12 billion or so from 10 banks led by the Philippine National Bank. The year it stopped operations was in 1999.

In the middle ’90s, NSC was already suffering from financial problems although it was still operating. So from time to time, we reported about its status. And once, while still doing some work in the office here, one early evening in the middle ’90s, somebody materialized out of the blue. The guy said that what we wrote was not true. NSC was going strong, he said. He wanted us to take back what we reported. I answered that we stand by what we reported and that we had our reliable sources.

Later, the company found a partner in Wing Tek and latter Hottick, Malaysian companies. Everybody thought  that was good, and that it was going to be business as usual for NSC. For a time, it was. But later, talk came out that those companies rhymed like “suwitik.”As in, you know…

Like Hanjin now, there were many “voices” that entered the picture which included political voices. So, sometime in 2004, NSC rose from the dead. It was operated by an Indian company called Global Steel.

But many sectors did not rejoice over its reoperation. The company was viewed more like a zombie with its macabre connotation because the company relied on a padrino — the first gentleman then, lawyer Mike Arroyo, hubby of you-know-who. GMA, to note said she’s from this city and many believe her because, really, she was here during some of her teenage years.

There were suspicions then that Global cannot hack it, what with their finances in operating the plant coming  from some loans, too. Besides, they were to cough up with the money equivalent to the loans that the previous operators incurred although on a staggered basis aside, of course, from the financial requirements in operating the steel plant. There was that story, too, about the steel markets, that the steel industry needs integration if it is to survive. So, its friendliness to Mike A could only do so much. Something’s got to give.

In time, something did really give. With the power industry refusing to give them power anymore, and its hundreds of workers remaining unpaid. So the steel voices grew silent once again. Only the silent voices remained.

At this time, please bear with me when I recite some lyrics of a song being sung by my friend Verna who has an angelic voice: “I hear the silent voices/ those endless silent voices… and when the night gets longer/ they keep on getting stronger/until they’re driving me insane…/ until they’re tearing me apart…”

In time, the silent voices which I think were heard by some politicians here and moved them to action. Instead of tearing them apart. For the then congressman Vicente Belmonte Jr. and Mayor Celso Regencia who are in the opposite side of the political fence decided to help in the aspect of the revival of NSC even as they remain brutal to each other in other areas. The NSC Technical Working Group was then formed. To make plans and actions as to the plant’s revival.

It helped that the city has claims of over P5 billion in real property taxes.

And then one day, even when Belmonte was no longer around politically, the city moved decisively. It gave  unto itself, the “ownership” of the now silent plant.

To the passive reaction of dismay of the head of the liquidation team, lawyer Danny Concepcion who himself is busy with other matters. Like being President of the University of the Philippines. The two are locked in an ownership battle over NSC but with the city government having the upper hand. Like  occupying the place, putting guards there inside the immediate  grounds. And holding  a flag raising ceremony one Monday morning in early 2017 to dramatize its “ownership.” Even as the liquidation team is guarding it too outside the immediate NSC premises.

The word banagbanag (dawn) from Vice Mayor Jemar Vera Cruz underscores what the city has achieved so far. It is waiting for a good investor, the city government says. And there is one, an Australian. This prospective investor had sat with the city government folks along with some members of Concepcion’s team. There’s really that banagbanag, the city officials say

The good VM Vera Cruz has received flak though especially for using that word.

As for Hanjin, we don’t see any parallel anymore as regards the move of the LGU in Subic. Or, is it that media isn’t just keen on reporting what the LGU there is doing? Does Hanjin have billions of pesos in debts in real property taxes there, too? We can only ask.

So, for all the flak city officials have been receiving, like the alleged corruption there, as in one skyflakes biscuits costing P185 each during sessions, or a sack of rice costing P3 thousand, or listing as attendees some personalities that are foreigners in a local barangay assembly, this one area about the NSC deserves one worthy praise although positive results still have to be realized. Rome  was not built in a day or two, a song goes.

So I still say the city is decisive in this aspect. And in the meantime, forget all those stories about being  wantonly “very corrupt.”

I told these things to  my friend Sheila and she said, “That’s rather a left-handed compliment of yours!”

I keep thinking about that one. A compliment with a big “but?”

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