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24 January 2009

Senator urges probe into Hanjin accidents in Subic Bay Freeport

Sen. Pilar Juliana Cayetano on Friday urged the Senate to immediately look into the series of accidents at the construction sites of South Korean shipbuilder Hanjin Heavy Industries Corp. at the Subic Bay Freeport.

Cayetano made the request after getting hold of a letter of Korean Ambassador Choi Joong Kyung to Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile trying to dissuade the Senate from investigating the fatal accidents involving Hanjin.

Cayetano said the ambassador’s letter, dated Dec. 23, 2008, highlighted the virtues of Korean investments in the country despite the global economic slowdown.

But in another part of the letter, the ambassador mentioned that the possible Senate inquiry on the accidents at the Hanjin shipyard could have a negative effect not only on the company but on the Philippines as well.

"The policy implication of all its present actions have deep and far reaching effects within and beyond the boundaries of the Philippines, " read the letter, copies of which were distributed to reporters.

Latest victim

A total of 18 deaths at sprawling Hanjin shipbuilding facility have been reported, the latest of which happened on Friday at 8:30 a.m.

The Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA) identified the latest fatality as Raldon del Rosario, 19, from Kalinga province, an employee of Redondo I-Tech Corp. He died of massive head injuries. Another worker, Camalao Bochie, 24, also from Kalinga, suffered leg injuries. Both victims were taken to St. Jude Hospital in Olongapo City, where Del Rosario was declared dead on arrival.

Initial reports released by the SBMA said the victims were pinned down by the metal base of a newly installed manual canvass door that fell at one of the assembly facilities of Hanjin.

Workers of Great Steel Con, a subcontractor of Hanjin, were testing the manual canvass door at around 8:30 a.m. when the accident happened, the SBMA said.

Last year, government regulators ordered Hanjin to stop its operations in its one of its assembly shops after an 8-ton girder assembly being lifted by a crane fatally struck a worker at the back of his head.

Work, however, resumed as the company assured that all safety measures were being undertaken.

Repercussions

In his letter, the Korean ambassador warned that Hanjin may find it difficult to secure overseas financing in case there would be any shadow cast on its credibility as a result of the investigation.

He said overseas competitors of Hanjin might also feel relieved not to follow Hanjin's pioneering into the Philippines.

Competitors might also find an opportunity in the company's misfortune and seize the chance to eliminate it.

Cayetano asked why the Korean ambassador would stop the investigation when "there is nothing to hide."

"The normal reaction would be telling the investigating body to go ahead with the probe and use the forum to air its side," Cayetano told reporters.

Regrettable, misplaced

She said she finds the ambassador's letter as both regrettable and misplaced. "Are we now to be told by a representative of a foreign country what we should and should not inquire into as a national lawmaking body, and even be threatened by 'deep and far reaching effects within and beyond the boundaries of the Philippines'?" Cayetano said.

"Is it not our duty, as lawmakers of the land, to look into violations and put in place measures to exact compliance?" She said she was not against the foreign investment or anything against the investments of Korean companies, adding that she was personally supportive of foreign investments that give the economy the necessary stimulus.

"Indeed, the government should create an atmosphere that encourages business and investments. But at the same time, laws aimed at protecting our people and our natural resources must be strictly complied with by all, whether Filipino or foreign investors," Cayetano said.

She further said the Senate should immediately investigate the construction activities at the project site before another Hanjin accident takes place.

"Let us not be dictated upon by the amount of investments by foreigners in the exercise of our official functions. We must stand up for our people and for our own laws. Let us remain true to our mandate as the Legislature, " Cayetano said. (Amita Legaspi, GMANews.TV)

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