Criminal Silence

Wednesday, November 10, 2010


It took four months for the First Philippine Industrial Corp. (FPIC) to finally admit that its own pipeline, apparently busted and leaking, was the source of the oil that had seeped into the basement of the 22-story West Tower in Bangkal, Makati City. The pipeline transports fuel products from Batangas to the Pandacan oil depot in Manila. In the meantime, residents of the condominium have abandoned the building and the Makati city government has declared a state of emergency over what was becoming an urban legend and a mystery along the tired M. Night Shyamalan genre. At the least, it’s not scary, it’s not funny.

Well, perhaps a bit funny. FPIC said that it discovered five holes the size of rice grains on a portion of its commercial pipeline on Bonifacio Street, near the foot of the ramp leading to the Magallanes interchange on Osmeña Highway. How five holes of such minuscule, indeed microscopic, size could have resulted in a leak of such a magnitude as to force the evacuation of a skyscraper and compel a rich city government to declare a state of disaster is one for the books. At the least, it’s a yarn that should impress not only Shyamalan but Hollywood fantasyland as a whole. While it took four months for FPIC to meekly admit its pipeline was behind the leak, it took less than 24 hours for it to come up with a diagnosis that would shame the denizens of the era of emergency operations, fast food and quick fixes: a quintuplet of holes is responsible for the huge amount of oil siphoned from the West Tower’s basement at the rate of 10 drums a day! FPIC said the condominium acted as catchment because the pumping operations were there.

Oh, okay. If we admit the stupid analysis that the five holes caused the emergency, that, after all, only a negligible 10 drums of oil were being lost from its pipeline every day so that the problem had remained undetected for so long, then why didn’t the FPIC check if something was wrong, especially since it knew its pipeline was located around the area of the calamity? Despite the constant media coverage of the problem, despite the Philippines’ own version of Wall Street going helter-skelter over the emergency, why did FPIC remain impervious to the ruckus? Why did it ignore the likelihood that its own busted pipe was causing the leak? Why didn’t it at least entertain fears that its own pipeline could be the culprit considering it was not too far from West Tower?

Alas, candor is not FPIC’s strongest suit. It was only after the Makati government announced that the FPIC pipeline could be behind the leak that the company shut down its pipeline. Even then it had the temerity to declare it was doing so “voluntarily.” Then after last weekend’s inspection, FPIC assured the public there was no need to worry; it would be able to patch up the holes and the repair would be completed in just 16 hours. Amazing, a problem that had endangered people’s lives for four months could be remedied in less than day!

Why the sudden sense of urgency on FPIC’s part? Because it may lose a lot of money, since it supplies Pilipinas Shell Petroleum Corp. and Chevron Philippines Inc., two of the biggest petroleum distributors in the country. In fact, as a result of the closure of the pipeline, Shell and Chevron stations have experienced supply problems and turned away motorists and customers. Faced with the loss of its clientele, FPIC is doing a Superman—finishing repairs in just two-thirds of a day. Commerce rules: Public safety may be okay, but FPIC needs cash.

It is therefore a matter of justice for West Tower residents to file a class suit against FPIC, as they are contemplating, for endangering their safety and sinking the cost of their condominium units. It is only proper for Makati authorities to take FPIC to task for its conspiracy of naked silence, its incorrigible tack of keeping mum while a disaster of its own probable making was in progress. It is only proper for FPIC to face the music for owning up to the blame belatedly, when it had known all along that all fingers, including its own, were pointed at it as a likely culprit. FPIC leaves up to its name: it is “First” in protecting itself. But it is conspiratorially, criminally, mute about felony of its own making.

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