(STAR) By Marichu A. Villanueva - Amid the uncertainties caused by the global financial crisis, Philippine companies participating in the Clinton Global Initiatives (CGI) Asia Meeting being held here have committed to help finance reforestation and projects to enhance education and climate change-related activities.

The first official commitment to the CGI Asia Meeting from the Philippines was forwarded yesterday by the Lopez Group which promised to contribute a total of P415.5 million. The amount represents the donation of the Lopez Group of Companies to the CGI to help improve the lives of the marginalized sectors in Philippine society in support of environment protection initiatives.

The CGI Asia Meeting was organized by the Clinton Foundation which was established in 2005 as a non-partisan organization and headed by former US President Bill Clinton. The two-day event being held here at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in Wanchai was billed as the first ever CGI meeting held outside the US and perhaps would be the last.

This loomed following the announcement the other day by US President-elect Barack Obama of his choice of New York (Democratic) Sen. Hillary Clinton to become the new secretary of the US State Department.

The former First Lady is the wife of former President Clinton whose Foundation’s activities, such as the holding of the CGI, would become subject to government restrictions under applicable US federal laws.

Mr.Clinton formally opened yesterday the CGI Asia Meeting. Invitations were sent to 11 incumbent and former heads of states including President Arroyo.

Mrs. Arroyo was one of five panelists in the opening plenary session that Mr.Clinton presided. He discussed the specific challenges that each of the five panelists’ countries faced including some of the climate change, degradation of environment, disaster mitigation, enhancing education, financial and energy crisis.

Mr. Clinton told the participants that the forum has produced as much as 1,200 commitments to actions valued at an estimated amount of $46 billion and helped 200 million lives in over 150 countries around the world. He pointed out, though that the CGI has nothing to do with the implementation of these commitments.

Oscar M.Lopez, chairman of the Lopez Group and president of Meralco, committed to donate approximately $8.3 million funded from the coffers of their family-owned conglomerate that include Meralco, the ABS-CBN radio/TV network, Benpres, Bayantel, First Gen, and their latest acquisition, the Energy Development Corp. (EDC).

“Doing good while doing well”

Asked by Mr.Clinton how she sees the future role of the business community and the civil society in the Philippines, President Arroyo cited the important role that they play. She acknowledged the presence of Lopez and other top business leaders who joined her at the CGI Asia Meeting yesterday. She mentioned the presence of Fernando Zobel de Ayala, president and chief operating officer of Ayala Corp., Roberto Romulo representing the Zuellig Foundation, Lopez, Eramon “Monchu” Aboitiz of the Aboitiz Foundation.

“There is a tremendous growth for them because in any country, whether developed or developing, and especially in a developing country, the government can’t address all the social and economic challenges alone,” President Arroyo pointed out.

“And I’m very happy to see, at least at the front row some of them, make the faces of philantrophy in the Philippines…They have all been a tremendous help in addressing the needs of the poor,” she cited.

At the same time, she added, the business sector is expected to be ‘not just a partner of the government in philantrophic activities but also in corporate citizenship for producing goods that are needed by the poor.’

‘Producing with environmental technology or in other words, in addressing the triple bottom line, not only financial viability but also social responsibility and environmental sustainability. And we’re very glad to have many business groups in the Philippines that adhere to that mantra, doing well while doing good ” she stressed.

Anti-illegal logging drive

The bulk of the Lopez Group’s commitment to the CGI, roughly P405 million, is to support a reforestation program to be implemented by EDC. The Lopez Group, through one of its companies, First Gen, bought from the government last year the EDC which is recognized as the second largest producer of geothermal power in the world.

In pursuit of its corporate social responsibility (CSR), the EDC committed to the CGI to provide an equivalent of $1 million a year over the next ten years for the reforestation of 10,000 hectares of forest lands or 1,000 hectares per year. Under the same project, tree parks of indigenous and rare premium tree species will be put up in 81 provinces and cities all over the Philippines.

The province of Isabela, which was recently devastated by flashfloods blamed wanton illegal logging, is the first major recipient of this CGI commitment by the Lopez Group.

In an exclusive interview with The STAR, Lopez said it was upon the direct request of Isabela Gov.Grace Padaca that her province was selected for the maiden implementation of their CGI commitment.

“To help Gov.Padaca make a headway in her campaign against illegal logging, we must find alternative means to earn for the people who derive their livelihood from these illegal logging activities,” the Lopez patriarch pointed out.

This CGI committed project will start after the signing of a memorandum of agreement between the EDC and the local government of Isabela on Dec.11.

At the CGI Asia Meeting yesterday, Clinton noted with concern that 18 percent of total global greenhouse gas emissions come from deforestation as he called attention to the need for environment-friendly energy source to balance the need for economic growth and jobs creation without sacrificing the air quality of developing nations.

Mr. Clinton cited the Philippines as fortunate to have the world’s biggest resource of geo-thermal power that is more environment-friendly to fuel engine its economic and industrial growth without adding to the greenhouse gas emission problem of the world.

Aside from this reforestation program, the Lopez group set aside P10.5 million for the Knowledge Channel Foundation Inc. headed by one of his daughters, Rina Lopez-Bautista who runs the Knowledge Channel in their family-owned Skycable. The Lopez donation will be used to link up to their Skycable 80 public schools in depressed areas in Metro Manila within a year. The Knowledge Channel runs the first and only educational channel in the Philippines on cable and satellite TV.

The father-daughter team was among business and government leaders, prominent philanthropists, celebrity advocates like Hong Kong’s famous action star Jet Li as founder of his One Foundation, and heads of states and former leaders of their countries who were invited to participate in this first CGI Asia Meeting. Filipina Actress K.C. Concepcion is also here representing the World Food Programme as goodwill ambassadress from the Philippines.

Also attending here as one of the invited panelists in various CGI plenary sessions were Edgar O. Chua, country chairman of Shell Companies in the Philippines, and former Environment Secretary Elisea Gozun as chairperson of the Clean Air Initiative in Asia.

Zobel was invited as one of the panelists to one of the plenary sessions on “Next Generation Philantrophy” involving individual and the CSR projects of private business companies. Zobel shared the best practices and experience of their family-run Ayala Foundation engaged in micro-financing livelihood projects for returning overseas Filipino workers.

Zobel told The STAR the Ayala Group of Companies is currently working out ways to help reduce the costs that OFWs incur in sending money to their families in the Philippines through Globe Telecom.

Three Filipino journalists, two of whom are based abroad, moderated their respective CGI plenary sessions. They were Maria Ressa, senior vice president of the Lopez-owned ABS-CBN; Singapore-based Rico Hizon who is business anchor of BBC World News, and, Jaime FlorCruz, bureau chief of the CNN.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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