Exasperated with a slow bureaucracy, Environment Secretary Gina Lopez admitted to pressuring an official of the Department of Energy (DOE) to release a permit for a solar farm project in Zamboanga City, without the knowledge of Energy Secretary Al Cusi.
The Inquirer learned that Lopez sent text messages to Mario Marasigan, director of the Renewable Energy Management Bureau last September, urging him to release the renewable energy service contract (RESC) of French-backed firm EcoGlobal Inc.
EcoGlobal applied for an RESC in mid-2015 for a $100-million, 30-megawatt solar farm that would power up the Zamboanga Peninsula. The solar farm is to be built at Zamboanga Freeport and Economic Zone in San Ramon village in Zamboanga City.
But RESC requirements made the application long and tedious. “Since EcoGlobal was willing to do solar in Zamboanga—and government bureaucracy was not moving—yes, I called Mario to fast-track it,” Lopez told the Inquirer in a text message when sought for comment.
Part of the text message to Marasigan read: “Mario, it’s important for the country to go the route of renewable energy. Eco Global is not even getting any subsidy so their (sic) putting in renewable is GOOOOOOOOOD for Zamboanga and goooooo (sic) for the country!!!! … They have been waiting for the contract for 10 months.
“IT GOES AGAINST THE DIRECTIVES OF PRESIDENT DUTERTE … It’s also not good to make promises you can’t keep … They are not asking for any favors … Just the rule of law—the protocol mandated 45 days!! You are sooo behind schedule Mario … Okay. Let’s get this going.. Take care…”
Marasigan replied: “My apologies Ma’am and thank you for your understanding.”
Lopez told the Inquirer she did not encroach on Cusi’s turf. “I asked him if it was OK I do alternative in off-grid areas. And that is what I am doing. My mandate is the environment,” she said.
The Inquirer learned about this unusual setup after two EcoGlobal employees expressed alarm upon seeing their boss, John-Philippe Henry, at a press conference with Lopez on Feb. 27.
At the press briefing, Lopez announced that the French public company SIAAP (the Greater Paris Sanitation Authority) would undertake the Pasig River Rehabilitation program through EcoGlobal Foundation, of which Henry is a trustee.
Nonpayment of wages
Sabrina Simbulan, EcoGlobal’s former vice president and shareholder, and a former EcoGlobal Foundation trustee, filed estafa and qualified theft cases against Henry and his associates.
Vienna Tañada, who remains with the company, filed a nonpayment of wages case against Henry in the labor department.
Simbulan and Tañada said EcoGlobal was cash-strapped because of Henry’s alleged mismanagement. It was Tañada who provided the Inquirer with a copy of Lopez’s text messages to Marasigan.
How did Tañada get them? Lopez had apparently sent Henry copies of her text messages to Marasigan. Henry copied and pasted them on the Whatsapp chat group of the EcoGlobal team handling the RESC, which included Tañada.
Trip to Paris
In the Whatsapp thread, the then EcoGlobal president and chair, Alberto Dalusung III, appeared adamant that EcoGlobal stick to the process and discouraged Henry from going straight to Lopez or Cusi for the RESC.
Dalusung said on Oct. 1 that Energy Undersecretary Felix Fuentebella had informed a lawyer of the company that Cusi got mad that Lopez went straight to Marasigan.
Because of this, Cusi disallowed Fuentebella from joining the Oct. 2-7 trip to Paris organized by EcoGlobal for Lopez and her delegation. But Lopez said she invited Cusi to the trip.
Sought for comment, Cusi said in a text message: “Sorry… but I don’t really know the problem,” referring to Lopez’s text messages to Marasigan. Cusi also denied preventing Fuentebella from joining the Paris trip.
Lopez said SIAAP shouldered the trip to Paris where she met with the French Ministry of Environment and SIAAP officials. Henry told the Inquirer the same thing on Sunday.
But the Inquirer obtained EcoGlobal’s Sept. 29 letter of guarantee to the French Embassy signed by Henry. He said: “EcoGlobal Inc. will take the full responsibility for all of their airfares, hotel accommodations, insurance coverage and travel allowances during the entire business trip in France.”
For saying that she pressured Marasigan and for going on a trip paid for by a private company, Lopez may be liable for violating the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act.
Lopez’s involvement with EcoGlobal does not end with her lobbying Marasigan to grant the RESC, which the company finally received in January.
She is also upset that EcoGlobal’s intracorporate dispute is getting in the way of the solar farm project.
The dispute began after trustees of EcoGlobal Foundation discovered that Henry allegedly misused its funds.
SIAAP and other foreign donors send funds to the foundation for projects like rehabilitating the Pasig River.
However, Henry, a foundation trustee and its chair and president, allegedly misappropriated the funds for his personal use, said Simbulan, who filed a qualified theft complaint against Henry in the National Bureau of Investigation.
Simbulan also claimed that early this year, Henry and his associates illegally removed her, Dr. Jaime Galvez-Tan and Sandra Palou as foundation trustees.
Dalusung also filed an estafa case against Henry and associates for illegally removing him as EcoGlobal Inc. president and shareholder last November.
Shareholder Dedes Zobel
Mercedes “Dedes” Zobel, a former EcoGlobal Inc. shareholder, likewise filed a falsification complaint against Henry and colleague Jean Yves Rovani after the two allegedly tampered with the original memorandum of agreement (MOA) and forged her initials.
In the original MOA, Zobel would have a 10-percent share in EcoGlobal’s waste-to-energy plant and solar farm project.