BATU, Indonesia. Photo by Jes Aznar

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Notes from Malaysia (part two)

KUALA LUMPUR - Royal Dutch Shell Plc, the global energy giant, is now preparing for the next phase of the Malampaya project in offshore Palawan with the drilling of two wells, officials said in a summit here but declined to comment on allegations of funds misuse currently hounding the multi-billion peso project.

On the sidelines of Shell Malaysia's two-day Innovation Summit here, Matthias Bichel, Shell director for Projects and Technology said the company is now starting the compression plant for two wells it recently drilled as part of the next phase in the Malampaya project.

"We are working on the next phase in Malampaya. We have drilled recently two wells successfully, which add new resources to the base and we have just about started with the facilities for compression," he told reporters.

He said that the compression process would keep the gas flowing on the reservoir.

"That is a project we are working on and that is really to prolong the life of the feed. And I think that is an integral part in the upstream game," Bichsel said.

Shell Philippines Exploration BV and its joint partners Chevron Malampaya LLC and Philippine National Oil Co. – Exploration Corp. (PNOC-EC) operate the deep water-to-gas Malampaya project in offshore Palawan.
The $1-billion expansion of the existing $4.5-billion Malampaya power project involves two phases. For the second phase, this entails the drilling and development of two additional wells.
The third phase, meanwhile, involves the installation of the yard, as well as additional equipment and facilities. With an investment of $750 million, the second phase is targeted to be completed by December 2015.
Bichsel said next step would be is to serve what the reservoir can deliver.

"If the reservoir can deliver more then decisions will be made," he said.

Asked to comment on allegations that royalties paid to the government by the consortium went to fake non-government organizations set up by businesswoman Janet Lim Napoles, another official said it was a matter for Filipinos to look into.

"I cannot comment on that. It's for Filipino citizens to look into," said Karen Westley, general manager for Non Technical Risks, Integrated Gas at Shell.

In February this year, the Malampaya project proponents turned over $1.1 billion to the National Government.
The amount represents the government’s 2012 revenue from the pioneering natural gas project that supplies 2,700 megawatts or up to 45 percent of Luzon’s power requirements. 
In 2011, the Malampaya consortium also turned over $1.1 billion to the government.
Bichsel, meanwhile, also stressed the importance of having a masterplan for the liquefied natural gas (LNG) sector, which Energy Secretary Carlos jericho Petilla said may be in place by the end of the year.

"Sometimes we find that having a masterplan is actually a good thing and to really stitch it together so it makes most sense to find a solution.  The advantage of a masterplan is that you literally think from A to Z, from beginning to end and that flushes out bottlenecks. That's what a masterplan is all about," he said.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Notes from Malaysia

KUALA LUMPUR – Collaboration among Southeast Asian countries including the Philippines is crucial in securing Asia’s energy future, energy experts said yesterday here at the opening of Royal Dutch Shell’s two-day Innovation Summit.

“Meeting the challenges that accelerated change brings will require governments, academia and private enterprise to work together to find innovative ways to achieve our common goals. Co-creation and innovation are key. Innovation enables advancements. Collaboration brings the best opportunities to the table. And that’s exactly why we’re here today,” said Shell Malaysia country chairman Iain Lo in his opening remarks.

The summit opened with a discussion on the role of innovation in nation building as well as the importance of innovative collaboration to strengthen Southeast Asian nations.

Innovation and technology will play a crucial role in unlocking the energy the world needs in the coming decades.

Maarten Wetselaar, executive vice-president for Integrated Gas, Royal Dutch Shell, said gas would be the main source of energy in the world before the middle of this century.

“We believe that gas will be main source of energy in the world before this middle of this century. We see gas taking a lead role in the world. Allowing the world to produce more oil and gas is going to be crucial,” he said.

He said the growth of Asia’s megacities and fast urbanization, with increased congestion and pollution presents policymakers with a big challenge and an opportunity and that is to fuel development in an environment friendly way.

“We believe that natural gas is uniquely position to address the challenges faced by policy makers today, tomorrow and as part of a secure, competitive, affordable and sustainable energy future,” Wetselaar said.

He outlined the benefits of gas, noting that natural gas produced around half the greenhouse gas emissions compared to coal.

It also has a transformational impact on economic development for countries with large domestic gas resources.

“Finally, smarter city planning that incorporates natural gas infrastructure offers not only significant gains in efficiency but also helps to reduce total air pollution and CO2 emissions,” Wetselaar said.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

An (accidental) Night with Mr. Bennett

The songs tugged perfectly at one's heart, as perfect as a gentle breeze kissing your sun-dried hair or a cruise on the River Rhine one cold afternoon of July. It was the kind of music that hits the deepest recesses of the soul, the kind that lingers and plays in your mind long after the 87-year old singer takes a bow and says good night.

I had no expectations at all. I even turned down a ticket that landed on my lap at the last minute. I was just at the PICC to wait for mum who nagged me for a ticket several days before.  There we were at the central bank governor's exclusive dinner for his guests who would be watching Mr. Bennett.

I was not part of the dinner nor was I given a ticket for the concert. I was just there to accompany my mum. I expected to wait along with the governor's bodyguards, chauffeur and the rest of the VIP crowds' escorts and minions. I didn't mind. I just wanted mum to have a nice night.

But the ticket that landed on my lap the last minuted allowed me to enter the concert hall, packed with men and women in their twilight years, with their canes and wheelchairs.

I sat there listening to Mr. Bennett in awe, immediately understanding why the country's oldies braved the traffic, the weather and the long walk to the PICC Plenary Hall from the main entrance.

The songs hit right home for the crowd who knew Mr. Bennett songs by heart.

It was a perfect night for mum, especially. Thank you Mr. Bennett for giving her the time of her life.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

On the Road in the Golden Land

Our latest entry at

Photos by Jes Aznar
Text by Iris Gonzales


RANGOON, Burma – The trip begins and ends with chai tea, in a hotel that is called mine though it isn't mine; in its lobby filled with intricate Southeast Asian antiques from forgotten kingdoms and where the scent of lemon grass incense wafts in the air . The concierge, standing at the top of the stairs where a giant jade sits perfectly, will offer a welcome tea drink. And if this isn’t enough, there are bags of tealeaves, gathered by tea pickers in Burma's mountains, waiting in the room.

Teatime is all the time, in between work, in between meals or in between chewing the red betel nut; with milk, ice or sugar or anything in between. There is a charred kettle filled with hot water on every table, be it the street food vendors' or in the usual Burmese home.

Welcome to Burma, dubbed as the Golden Land where gold-plated gilded spires and towering pagodas glisten under the August sun.

Here, men wear the longyi, a wrap-around checkered fabric that is worn like a sarong while the women and young girls with red pigtails put thanaka on their cheeks, a white paste spread thickly – the thicker the make-up, the more fashionable.

Buddha lies demurely with pink colored nails, casting shadows on the city's newly-paved roads. Monks are in reddish brown robes instead of the usual saffron worn across the region.

Hawkers selling foreign investment guides fill streets once closed by military roadblocks while cab fares are negotiated amicably, not shrewdly as Manila’s cabbies do.

At the Shwedagon Pagoda, a towering complex, Buddha never sleeps, kept awake by the whispered prayers of monks in robes, elderlies, young boys and girls -- sinners everywhere -- finding their own corners under 3,154 gold bells and more than 70,000 diamonds.

In the scorching afternoon sun, the Kandawgyi Lake licks the Karaweik Hall, a golden structure shaped after the mythical Karaweik bird and which rests elegantly on its calm waters.
Indeed, Burma stands out in contrast to the rest of the region. It is teeming with Asian culture but without the overwhelming influences of the western world.

Yet it is changing and changing still.

Construction is happening in every empty lot downtown – every brick is falling into place while cranes and bulldozers are moving every patch of earth available.

Photographs of Aung San Suu Kyi, the daughter of the general, are everywhere and on a sweltering hot Thursday – on August 8 -- thousands crammed the city’s convention center to see her and commemorate the bloody 888 uprising, which happened exactly 25 years ago.

Just half a decade ago, this would not have been possible and violators would have found themselves locked up in Burma's rotting prison cells or tightly guarded military barracks.

The Irrawaddy Magazine, too says it is happy to be home after 20 years in exile. It is the same sentiment of beer lovers now back on 19th Street, Yangon’s Chinatown -- a culinary abode offering grilled potatoes, garlic-fried chicken, steamed dim sum, cheap beer and Mojitos for less than a dollar – which was once jittery because of military armed men.

Indeed, Burma is as different as it can be. And it’s not just the tea.

People call it many names – the Garden of the East, the Golden Land or Asia Lost in Time.

For Jes and me, Burma is all that and more. It is a barefoot walk in the night, momentarily capturing the pagoda eclipsed by fleeting overcast skies; It is an endless taxi ride downtown, lost in Rangoon's streets or sharing cans of Myanmar Beer on the balcony of room 804; it is hearing dogs howling in the dead of night. It is learning to say pa-se to take out rice when there is none.

It is parting the white curtains for the last time to catch a glimpse of the pagoda while savoring chai tea, here in the Burma that we know, yet another stop in our life on the road, between the heart of an enigmatic young boy and a paradise of a beach called Puka.






Tuesday, September 3, 2013


There are countries that take a part of me, momentarily or forever -- be it a patch of their blue skies, a portrait of some mist covered mountain, the sun setting on the River Rhine, a long countryside drive from Kazakhstan to Kyrgyztan or some castle from forgotten times.

Myanmar is one of those places that took a part of me and made me feel at home. I will miss the barefoot walks, the milk tea, the Buddhist monks in saffron robes, the quiet mornings in full view of the Shwedagon Pagoda, the smiles of young girls with painted cheeks and many more.

I will miss the August rain and the sweltering heat, those stark contrasts that are not unlike the contradictions I live with. I will miss the conversations with taxi drivers and even the horrendous traffic. I will miss the gold-plated pagodas and giant Buddhas.

But it will not be for long. I know I will be back because I felt at home, somewhere out there, in between Buddha's shadows on the newly-paved roads of Yangon and in my heart.