NP bets: No to emergency powers for Arroyo

NP bets: No to emergency powers for Arroyo
By Michael Lim Ubac, TJ Burgonio
Philippine Daily Inquirer

DAVAO CITY, Philippines—Nacionalista Party candidates on Saturday warned that giving President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo emergency powers to deal with the power crisis in Mindanao would be a repeat of the energy policy of the Ramos administration that entered into allegedly onerous contracts with independent power producer (IPPs) to end power outages.

While campaigning here, NP presidential candidate Sen. Manuel Villar and running mate Sen. Loren Legarda, categorically opposed any declaration of an emergency in the south.

The President said on Thursday that she had adopted Energy Secretary Angelo Reyes’ recommendation to declare a power crisis in Mindanao, but has yet to issue a proclamation.

This declaration would allow the government to invoke Section 71 of the Electric Power Industry Reform Act (Epira) to enable the state power generator, the National Power Corp. (Napocor) to buy or lease modular generator sets to augment Mindanao’s power supply.

Buy, lease power barges

Villar said Ms Arroyo has enough powers under the Epira to deal with the crisis without invoking emergency powers.

“I don’t want emergency powers. What I want is (to buy or lease) power barges,” he said.

He also questioned why power plants had to be shut down for their annual maintenance at the same time.

Legarda claimed it was not the El Niño weather phenomenon that was causing the power shortage in Mindanao, “but the result of the inability of this administration to encourage more participation by the private sector in power generation in Mindanao and to address the environmental issues raised against proposed power plants.”

Legarda said the Arroyo administration had not built a single power plant in Mindanao.

Golden parachute

NP senatorial candidates Gilbert Remulla and Satur Ocampo and Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel, whose daughter Gwen is running for the Senate under the NP, said they suspected the Arroyo Cabinet was seeking a “golden parachute”—meaning retirement funds—for its exit from power in June.

“Definitely this is another scheme to negotiate onerous power purchase agreements with IPPs,” said Remulla.

To solve the crippling power shortages in the early 1990s, the Napocor during the Ramos administration entered into contracts with mostly foreign-owned power producers. Most of the capacity put in place by these IPPs were not fully utilized but the government still had to pay for them. The resulting debt was passed on to the public through higher electricity rates.

Ocampo said the emergency power scheme was being chosen to “make up for negligence and lack of foresight in preparing for the recurrence of El Niño and its dire consequences, but the cost to government and the people may become an added drag to the weak economy.”

Unused power barges

Pimentel asked why Napocor was not using four available power barges to supply power to Mindanao, which he said were bought a long time ago and were not being used.

He said the purchase of generators may be meant to “line the pockets of some people.”

Pimentel said the government could also order the full utilization of a power plant in Iligan which was running only 30 percent of its capacity.

The general manager of the Agusan del Norte Electric Cooperative, Horacio Santos, has claimed that the 35 MW diesel plant in Iligan was shut down by Napocor on Feb. 1 for unclear reasons.

The disposition of the mothballed Iligan plant was mentioned by the Department of Energy in its report to Ms Arroyo about a power supply crisis in Mindanao because of El Niño.

Special session

Malacañang on Saturday said it would have to consult the leaders of Congress on whether they could muster a quorum if the President decides to call a special session to address the power crisis in Mindanao.

“Only they can tell if they can muster quorum if a special session is called. Because if we call such a session, and only a few turn up, we’d only be embarrassed,” Deputy Presidential Spokesperson Ricardo Saludo told dzMM radio.

Once the power crisis is declared, Congress has to draft the rules and regulations for contracting additional generation capacity, said Saludo.

Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile said he was willing to convene a special session, but admitted that his main concern was whether the chamber could muster a quorum in the middle of an election campaign.

Several senators, whether candidates for higher office or seeking reelection, have been barnstorming for weeks now. Congressmen are poised to hit the campaign trail on March 26.

“Besides, we have to know what kind of emergency powers we are going to grant President Arroyo. We have to specify that,” Enrile said.

House hearing March 11

The House of Representatives is ready to hold a special session to discuss Ms Arroyo’s plan to declare a power crisis in Mindanao but doubted that senators would be willing to attend a special session.

The House committee on energy chaired by Ms Arroyo’s son, Pampanga Rep. Juan Miguel “Mikey” Arroyo, will hold a public hearing in Mindanao on March 11 to give lawmakers a first-hand view of what the residents and businessmen in the region are going through.

Mikey Arroyo earlier said the President’s use of crisis powers under Epira should be done only as a last resort.

“But since it is the Mindanaoans themselves, through their representatives in Congress, who are pushing for it, I can only accede to their demand. After all, they are the ones who are directly affected,” said Arroyo.

House Speaker Prospero Nograles also doubted a quorum could be mustered. With reports from Christine Avendaño and Gil C. Cabacungan Jr.

Karen Ang

A plebeian who is trying to make small changes in this world.