One miracle after another
FROM THE STANDS - Domini M. Torrevillas (The Philippine Star) - August 11, 2020 - 12:00am

I had an interesting conversation with Angel Lazaro III, managing partner of Angel Lazaro International, one of the country’s top engineering consulting firms, about the effect of the enhanced community quarantine on his company and family. He said the announcement of ECQ last March “was so sudden that most people were caught by surprise and were unprepared. That included me and my family and we more or less just floated around the first few days, not knowing what to do.”

But life had to go on, he said, “and pretty soon my wife was her old busy self running things in the house, although under drastically changed conditions. All things considered, we were all right, with all our basic needs provided for.”

After the initial shock, one of Angel’s first thoughts was the office. What to do with the company’s 50 employees? “The pressing concern was the payroll. With no output there would be no income. We had no idea how long the lockdown will last. We had funds for about two months, stretchable to three if we did not give the full salaries. We decided to do the three-month option, meaning we would run out of funds by June 15.”

“By June 1 restrictions were eased to general community quarantine (GCQ) and work resumed. We were also able to have just enough collections to support the payroll. This has been the situation up to the present time, where every month everyone would be praying for collections for the next payroll. So far, so good.”

Angel’s daughter Michelle, the firm’s junior partner who lives in Massachusetts and comes to Manila often, but can’t come this time due to the pandemic, has been very much involved in keeping the ALAI office safe and as COVID-free as possible. “We disinfected the office and imposed all the necessary health protocols. We encouraged and tolerated work from home stations and provided a shuttle service so nobody takes public transportation.”

“We had some tense moments when people exhibited symptoms and tested positive. We tried our best not to panic and take each episode as a learning experience. So far we have successfully addressed all cases, and the office is still running.”

Angel took over the management of ALAI after his father, the famous Angel Lazaro Jr., who founded the firm, passed away a few years ago. Angel III describes his father as “an architect and civil engineer (whose record) will probably never be equaled by anyone in the Philippines. With very few exceptions, he always achieved the highest possible result in everything he did. He combined a superior intellect with a prodigious capacity for hard work.”

Angel III rarely goes to the ALAI office and communicates with his employees mostly by digital modes. The quarantine has afforded him time to revisit his autobiography which he has been writing for the last five years, and is now in the editing stage.

His autobiography shows he is not just the son of his famous father. He will turn 77 on Aug. 23. He finished the Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering in 1964. Then he obtained two master’s degrees from Princeton University, and a Doctor of Philosophy in 1971, at the age of 28. He finished all three degrees without his spending a centavo, as he had scholarships and research assistantships. These were miracles, not coincidences, he said.

Upon his return to the Philippines, he held a series of academic positions. From associate professor, he rose up to full professor and dean of the College of Engineering, De La Salle University, and professorial lecturer of the graduate school, College of Engineering at UP Diliman. He was president of the Philippine Institute of Civil Engineers and of many other professional associations.

President Fidel Ramos appointed him administrator of the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System (MWSS) that privatized the government agency – which was deemed imperative at that time. He chaired the board charged with monitoring the civil engineering examinations. His excellent performance resulted in his being chosen an “Academician” by the National Academy of Science and Technology (NAST), the highest advisory body to the government on scientific matters. His tireless effort to improve the plight of civil engineers against competing professions is among the highlights of his professional career.

Outside his academic involvements, Angel actively headed ALAI’s many retrofitting projects of bridges and roads, practically almost all of Metro Manila’s flyover projects and the international design and construction of bridges and roads in Bangladesh and Vietnam.

Angel has always put premium on his spiritual life. This is confirmed by people who worked for and with him and who vouch for his untarnished reputation as an honest and incorruptible government official. Since the lockdown, he and his wife Zeny (daughter of Dr. Daniel Rosales Labrador and Ambrosia Pulido) and their son Victor, a cardiologist, and daughter-in-law Melissa, a dermatologist, watch online “Intercede Daily,” a daily devotional conducted by Christ Commission Fellowship. They also watch “Steadfast Hope” with Steve Lawson, also a daily devotional, from Dallas, Texas.

Angel says his life has been one miracle after another. He told me, “God works in mysterious ways. We never did these before the pandemic. Now it is part of our routine and we are so happy and blessed.”

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After sitting in the ports of Villanueva and Tagoloan, Misamis Oriental for two years, 70 container vans of contaminated plastic waste from South Korea were taken home Aug. 3 on board the vessel BF Mahia. The remaining batch is scheduled to be reshipped out by the vessel Vivaldi this week.

Deceptively declared as “plastic synthetic flakes,” the contaminated plastic waste materials, which arrived in July and October 2018 at the Misamis Oriental ports, were found by the authorities to contain unsorted plastic materials, used dextrose tubes, soiled diapers, discarded electronics and household garbage in violation of national laws and the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal.

According to EcoWaste Coalition, following successful bilateral negotiations led by the Bureau of Customs-Region 10, a total of 251 container vans of illegal waste shipments were re-exported to South Korea this year on July 18 (53 containers), March 27 (47 containers), Feb. 16 (50 containers) and Jan. 19 (50 containers), and last year on Jan. 19 (51 containers). Another 70 containers were shipped out Aug. 3, and the 10 remaining vans sometime this week, bringing the total number of returned containers loaded with garbage to 331.

“The completion of the complicated re-exportation procedures in the middle of the COVID-19 crisis that continues to disrupt and claim people’s lives is a big win in our people’s pursuit of environmental justice and the rule of law during these most difficult times,” declared Aileen Lucero, national coordinator of EcoWaste Coalition.

“As the entry of foreign waste will likely persist unless corrective regulations are put in place, we call upon President Duterte to implement his abhorrence against waste dumping through an order banning the importation of all wastes, including plastics intended for so-called recycling,” Lucero emphasized. She said the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) has yet to revoke a policy allowing the importation of waste, including “recyclable materials containing hazardous substances.”

Dr. Joe DiGangi, senior science and technical adviser of the International Pollutants Elimination Network (IPEN), said that “the return of illegally exported South Korean waste demonstrates that regulatory enforcement can and must continue during the pandemic. Now the challenge for both countries is to ratify the Basel Convention Ban Amendment so that this sad history is not repeated.”

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