Hubert d’Aboville, President, Pamatec, Philippines
Hubert d’Aboville, President of Pamatec, speaks about the motivation behind starting Pamatec, the challenges that have been confronted since its founding, and his growth strategy moving forward.
As the founder of PAMATEC, how does the company look today compared to your vision at the outset? Did you ever see yourself working with the Filipinos on the power industry 25 years ago?
In late 1979, I received a job offer from a large French multinational company in the timber business to head their operations in the Philippines. In March 1981, I took up my post in Manila after completing two years of intensive training in tropical wood trading in Europe and Africa. Soon after, I was appointed in charge of their operations in South East Asia. However, being a lover of nature, I longed to be replanting trees instead of cutting them, which eventually made me decide to change completely the nature of my business. Having decided to establish my own business company in the Philippines, I chose to work in the power industry, convinced of the wide opportunities in the country’s developing power sector. In 1988, I created Paris-Manila Technology Corporation (Pamatec) which brought into the local market Merlin Gerin’s Uninterrupted Power Supply (UPS). Pamatec rapidly expanded its list of electrical equipments and became exclusive distributor of Schneider Electric’s low, medium and high voltage and eventually won contracts to build sub-stations. Ironically, Pamatec’s success in gaining a good market share paved the way for Schneider to establish their own operations in the Philippines with a well-trained technical staff from Pamatec. Having to reinvent itself, Pamatec rose to the challenge and geared towards renewable energy way back in 2003 when I conceptualized a rural electrification project for the poor communities of Masbate province, which won the approval of the French government to provide an ODA (soft-loan) to the Philippine government. Worth EUR 17.5 million, the PRES project was completed in late 2009, electrifying 18,000 households in 128 villages, of which 30 percent were equipped with solar energy while the rest were electrified at the minimum cost using mini-grids powered by 153 diesel gensets.
One of the most challenging issues we had to deal with during the installation of the PRES project was the New People’s Army (NPA) who demanded Pamatec to pay a revolutionary tax. Upon our refusal, 10 million pesos worth of equipments were burned by the NPA. My Filipina wife and I traveled to Ultrech in the Netherlands where we met with their leaders whom we convinced of the merit of the PRES project as poverty-alleviation. This meeting enabled the ground operations in Masbate to complete the installation of the more than 200 containers of high-quality equipments supplied by ETDE (Bouygues Energy and Services) without paying any revolutionary tax.
In mid 2013, the French Ambassador together with the DOE Secretary, the president of Napocor and the governor of Masbate visited the PRES project installations, which provide electricity to over 100,000 inhabitants. This official visit witnessed the excellent quality of the equipments and the high quality of the local installation made by Pamatec. It is interesting to note that the local installations were done in extremely difficult terrain wherein the 25 supervisors of the project were traveling on motorbikes and covered 1 million kilometers during a period of 1000 days. Due to inclement weather and the burning of equipments by the NPA, Pamatec was granted 200 days extension due to force majeur, in addition to the 877 days stipulated in the contract, in order to complete the project. However, when Pamatec presented its invoice worth 459,000 euros for the cost of the 200 days extension, the company received an official reply from the Philippine government that “morally”, the money was due. But morally only! Despite the government acknowledging that the contract had been carried out to exactingly high standards, Pamatec has still as yet to receive payment for the 200 days extension.
What is your strategy and your main priorities today?
My strategy is based on the four pillars of development: rural electrification, access to water, education and health. Improved access to water, education and health and power all at once must happen, and Pamatec will continue to work together with partners to achieve this true path to development. To pursue improvements in living conditions, the economy, and reduce impacts on the environment it is important to have a global and holistic vision. It is through this strategy of development in the rural areas that we can reduce the exodus of the rural population to big cities. Pamatec, working with Handicapped International, provided care for 300 disabled persons in the rural communities in Masbate. Pamatec, together with the Ayala Foundation, brought in the GILAS program, which provided 10 computers in each of the 20 schools in Masbate province, which made it possible for the students to make such a great leap from candles to chips! Pamatec also brought in a French NGO partner to provide a 40-footer container full of medical equipments from France, which was donated to the provincial hospital that was in dire need of equipments. It is important to remember that pursuit of development is more important than prioritizing profit particularly in an ODA project, which has always been my personal crusade. This project was the perfect representation of what development is. And to underline the seriousness of Pamatec’s commitment to sustainable development, it is important to note that all the finance for the company’s corporate social responsibility initiatives came directly and solely from company coffers.
Since the debacle where Pamatec did not receive payment for, as you describe, widely recognized, high quality work, what has the company done to move forward?
At the moment, Pamatec is bidding for the construction contract of a 10MW solar system with Bouygues Energies & Services, a leading French company that delivers fully integrated, sustainable lifecycle solutions. This project does not require Pamatec to visit a plethora of villages, or entail any particularly challenging engineering works; it is a single site, simple installation. Pamatec is still pursuing solar principally because of the green ethos of the company—a commitment, which goes beyond energy to include issues as diverse as reforestation and participation in environmental awareness raising events. Green energy is the future and Pamatec is pushing for development of this sector and the vigor with which Pamatec pursues its ambitions means potential partners know of Pamatec’s reputation for excellence in this field.
There are still 10 million people in the Philippines without power, which is a situation Pamatec is eager to change. Bringing light, education and power is an important step to ensuring that rural communities can progress and grow; it is not feasible for the whole Filipino populace to migrate to urban areas. Connecting communities to television, the internet and other modern appliances is essential to let these communities step forward and improve their lives.
What are your thoughts on the future of the power sector around the world?
This world cannot ignore the present threat from carbon emissions and environmental degradation. Within our generation we must change the paradigm of how we use and produce power because a balance must be maintained between economic growth and environmental protection and solar, biomass and wind are essential to achieving these dual aims. There is no alternative, because society cannot deal with the rises in sea levels and other catastrophic impacts that would be caused by runaway global warming. Retaining a global perspective will allow society to continue improving quality of life without endangering the prospects of future generations.
To read more interviews and articles on the Philippines, and to download the latest free report on the country, click here.