Friday, 20 April 2012

Letters from Port Moresby

A group OFWs await their flight home at the departure lounge of the Jackson international airport in Port Moresby,  Papua New Guinea. – MWBuzzpic by ALFREDO P HERNANDEZ
More Filipinos in Papua New Guinea


WHILE waiting to board Air Niugini for my flight to Manila recently, I noticed that I hardly knew the other passengers at the departure lounge.

There were close to a hundred of them – all Filipino workers on the way home to the Philippines – either on holiday or with job contracts done for good.

Usually, I could pick a face or two from the crowd and chat with them while waiting for the gate to the tube to open.

But on Sunday, there was none among the departing passengers.

I could not see one whom I would know by face or by name.

As far as I was concerned, those Pinoys at the departure lounge with me were all strangers.

Now, I have realized that there have been more Filipinos these days in Port Moresby than it was a few years back, shrinking the number of those whom I knew or recognize –   acquaintances I have developed over the past 18 years that I have lived in Port Moresby.

Finally, when an old-timer Filipino showed up at the lounge with a hand-carried, I excitedly stood up from the seat where I killed time and met him for a chat.

I told him: Padre, ang daming Pinoy dito pero wala akong ma-recognize sa kanila ... ano ... LNG ba sila? (Bro, there’s a heap of Pinoys here but i can’t recognize anyone of them... are they from the LNG (projects)?

“Most likely ... and other projects,” my friend replied.

Then he broke a bit of news: Would you like to believe that the Philippine Embassy (in Port Moresby) is processing and authenticating more than 20,000 job contracts with PNG companies ... most of them jobs bound for LNG and oil projects.

The embassy right now is practically swarmed with job inquiries about, and requests, from LNG, gold and canning companies for workers from the Philippines.

At present, the embassy estimates that there should be about 10,000 documented Filipinos all over Papua New Guinea and another 2,000 to 4,000 unlisted.

With the hiring frenzy on Filipino workers and professionals to man the LNG and oil projects led by ExxonMobil and Esso Highlands, it would not be long when the Pinoy population in this country would balloon to 25
,000, placing Filipinos in the top five of expatriate population led by Australians.

Last month, a group of 117 Pinoy workers from the LNG projects taking shape just outside of Port Moresby went home after finishing their two-year contracts.

Finishing their contracts with Red Sea Construction of Qatar, most of them were hoping to come back to work in the same projects.

One of these Pinoys, who surprisingly comes from Parang in Jose Panganiban, Camarines Norte, told me that the jobs they did for the LNG – a long jetty for gian LNG vessels – have been completed.

But there are still massive jobs left undone.

For instance, the pipeline network that would siphon the gas from the source in the highlands stretches more than 700km, with at least 407km of pipes running under the sea along the seacoast towards the LNG depot just outside of Port Moresby.

The extremely hostile environment and terrain along the pipeline route would be a big challenge to anyone who would be doing jobs such as the actual laying of giant pipes and welding them together.

The project is located in a largely undisturbed and very remote area of one of the world’s most biodiverse nations, according to an environmental impact study done by LNG project owners.

The study also mentioned other environmental constraints that included:
• The majority of the project area being forested in continuous undisturbed primary tropical forests and swamps.
• Large numbers of conservation-listed species throughout the project area.
• Numerous watercourses remaining largely uncontaminated by human activity.
• The south of the project area containing large areas of swampland.
• Numerous caves and specialised cave fauna.
• Large areas completely free of exotic weeds and pests.

This could be the main reasons why the LNG project owners led by ExxonMobil and Esso Highlands preferred Filipinos over other nationalities for the job.

Our kababayans, aside from their acquired education and expertise on a particular line of job, have proved themselves to adopt well in extreme environment – whether it is in the middle of the Saudi Arabian desert where the temperature could be at boiling point or at freezing level, or in the middle of the oceans in a vessel or oil drilling rigs.

During the early stage of the PNG LNG project, the Philippine Embassy in Port Moresby received inquiries/requests for at least 30,000 skilled and professional Filipinos who could work at the project during its 30-year life.

The requests came from the three giant hiring companies led by global Air Energi.

But soon enough, PNG authorities have balked at the idea of outsourcing labor from overseas – particularly in the Philippines  -- as there are available workers to take up on the jobs.

The project owners, however, argued that there is no time to train local workers to handle the jobs as the project has to start production by 2014, or else miss the delivery date agreed with LNG buyers from Asia, led by Japan and South Korea.

Besides, it also has to compete with Australia in looking for new LNG markets. Australia’s LNG projects are the biggest in the world and are looking for new gas buyers aside from those they now have on their sleeves.

Failure of the PNG LNG to start production by 2014 could mean loss of new markets because the Australian LNGs would be taking off by then and delivering contracted LNG to clean gas-hungry economies worldwide as well as to new buyers.

So the PNG gas projects are compelled to continue hiring Filipinos for their own good.

It goes without saying that the PNG LNG projects, and others such as nickel, copper, gold and tuna canning, would continue to be the Mecca for skilled and professional Filipinos.

This is great news for Filipino overseas workers.

The 30-year life span of the LNG projects and other resource developments could make many of them economically and financially-enhanced if they know how to play their cards well.

In PNG, the Pinoy expatriates are doing just that.

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