SAN FRANCISCO, MARCH 11, 2008 (STAR) By Marichu Villanueva – An undersecretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) has been designated as president of the Philippine Forest Corp. (PFC), the position once held by Senate star witness Rodolfo Lozada Jr.

DENR Undersecretary for field operations Eleazar Quinto, by Special Order 2008-90 signed by DENR Secretary Lito Atienza, was named president of the PFC in concurrent capacity. The PFC is one of the government corporations under the supervision and control of the DENR.

Quinto became the permanent replacement for Lozada, who resigned last month shortly before he told the Senate about overpricing and kickbacks that allegedly went into the $329-million national broadband network (NBN) project awarded to ZTE Corp. of China, and implicated several government officials and President Arroyo’s husband, Jose Miguel Arroyo.

As soon as Quinto assumed his post, he completed one item of unfinished business left by Lozada. Quinto concluded the jathropa production contract with Abundant Biofuels Corp. (ABC), an American firm engaged in the business of alternative energy production.

To cap his first business deal as PFC president, Quinto will officially sign the contract next week in California. This was bared to The STAR by Rene Lacsina, president and chief executive officer (CEO) of Bio-Fuels Philippines Inc. after he signed here their company’s first investment in the Philippines – a $200-million jathropa production contract entered into with the Philippine Agriculture Development Corp. (PADC).

ABC, based in Monterey, California, will operate the jathropa production and refinery business in the country through its subsidiary, Bio-Fuels Philippines Inc.

The PADC is also a government corporation but under the control and supervision of the Department of Agriculture. The DA is the lead agency of the government’s “convergence of agencies” involved in jathropa production, along with DENR and the Department of Agrarian Reform.

Quinto took over the reins of the PFC effective Feb. 15 from Erwin Krishna Santos, who was first named by Atienza as officer-in-charge (OIC) following the resignation of Lozada. Santos was one of Lozada’s deputies at the PFC. During a nationwide public affairs program on a government-run TV network, a sobbing Santos denounced Lozada for alleged anomalies while he was president of PFC. After serving for only one week as OIC, Santos went back to his duties as program development manager of PFC.

The signing of the ABC jathropa contract was one of the official activities of Agriculture Secretary Arthur Yap while he was here on official mission. Yap, who had to cut short his trip here, was represented by his deputy, PADC president Marriz Agabon who signed the contract with ABC president and CEO Charles Fishel in rites held at the Philippine consulate in San Francisco and witnessed by consul-general Marciano Paynor Jr.

Lacsina said he first negotiated for a jathropa production contract with the PFC when he flew to the Philippines in December last year and talked to Lozada about this possible venture of ABC.

“I was impressed with him (Lozada) because he was very aggressive,” Lacsina said.

But for reasons unknown to him at the time, Lacsina said the contract signing with Lozada did not push through. When he came back to Manila in late January, Lacsina would learn that Lozada had turned Senate witness in the NBN-ZTE scandal.

When pressed if he believes Lozada’s NBN-ZTE exposé, Lacsina said he would not delve into domestic politics.

Lacsina recalled Lozada even accompanied him to Negros to join the group of former congressman Herminigildo Teves because their company had entered into a similar jathropa production contract for 10,000 hectares of land in that province.

When he learned that ABC was looking for another site for their jathropa production contract, Lacsina said Lozada offered to him 40,000 hectares of ancestral lands in Bukidnon under the DENR’s Lupang Hinirang ancestral and public domain lands turned over to the PFC.

Thus, Lacsina said, he was happy that Quinto called him up and informed him that he would proceed with the project as proposed by Lozada.

“Usec. Quinto is just as committed. Hopefully, this would be signed before the Pacquiao fight,” Lacsina commented.

Lacsina obviously referred to the timing and place of the signing of the contract, which coincides with the boxing match of Filipino Manny Pacquiao on March 15 in Las Vegas, Nevada (March 16 in Manila). Pacquiao, who is a known protégé of Atienza’s, is challenging Mexican champion Juan Manuel Marquez for the World Boxing Council (WBC) super featherweight title.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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