Duterte fires gov't oil exploration corporation chief

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – President Rodrigo Duterte has axed Pedro Aquino Jr, CEO of the Philippine National Oil Company Exploration Corporation (PNOC-EC), allegedly for prematurely approving a deal with a Russian firm.

Aquino confirmed this to Rappler on Tuesday, October 15.

"I was asked by the President to submit my resignation effective Monday, October 14," he said in a text message.

Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo later on confirmed this. He said Duterte asked for Aquino's resignation due to "loss of confidence."

Jive Bullock of the Department of Energy's public affairs division confirmed that Aquino submitted his resignation. The DOE received a copy on Monday, she told Rappler in a phone call.

The DOE will soon release a statement on Aquino. 

Word of Duterte's displeasure with Aquino first arose during the 42nd Cabinet meeting held on Friday, October 11. Two sources had told Rappler on Saturday, October 12, that Duterte said he had met with an official who, in his words, “better resign.”

The President mentioned no specific name, said the two sources, but he had met with PNOC-EC officials earlier on Friday.

Duterte also did not state the specific reason for firing Aquino but one source said he had vaguely mentioned “corruption.”

Senator Sherwin Gatchalian, in a Tuesday statement, said Aquino was earlier suspended by the PNOC-EC's board of directors for approving a memorandum of agreement with a Russian company “for the development of a multilateral cooperation in oil products and trading, and joint participation in oil refining” without the permission from the PNOC-EC board or Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi. 

Gatchalian did not mention the name of the Russian firm. Previously, Duterte had invited Russian oil giant Rosneft to explore for oil and gas in different parts of the Philippines, including in the West Philippine Sea.

But a Manila Bulletin report, quoting a PNOC-EC report, says the approved agreement that led to Aquino's suspension was with Rosneft and Pionaire Finance Limited, a Hong Kong-based company.

PNOC-EC signed a deal with these firms two years ago, in June 2017, during an international forum in St Petersburg, Russia, according to a Rosneft press release.

The agreement "lays the basis for the development of multilateral cooperation in oil and products trading as well as for joint participation in oil refining projects," reads the press release.

Rosneft and PNOC-EC also expressed intent to enter into a "strategic long-term contract in the near future for delivery of crude oil" to the Philippines.

The PNOC-EC is a government corporation that conducts oil and gas exploration to help ensure sufficient energy supply for the country. 

It can partner with private firms to raise capital and capability to explore for energy resources.  With a report from Ralf Rivas/Rappler.com

Pia Ranada

Pia Ranada covers the Office of the President and Bangsamoro regional issues for Rappler. While helping out with desk duties, she also watches the environment sector and the local government of Quezon City. For tips or story suggestions, you can reach her at pia.ranada@rappler.com.

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