'Energy crisis just artificial'

‘Energy crisis just artificial’
The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines – Sen. Richard Gordon said the power crisis in Mindanao is artificial and may be part of a sinister plot, and demanded an explanation from the Arroyo administration.

“They should explain why there is a power shortage. From what I have heard – and I have just been to Mindanao – the water level in Lanao lake is normal. They just opened up a power plant in Cebu and they will open up a couple more. I don’t know what they are talking about,” Gordon, Bagumbayan party presidential candidate, told editors and reporters of The STAR yesterday.

“They have a lot of explaining to do.”

Gordon said a shortage of power is a threat to national security, hence the need for the government to be transparent.

“It is artificial, I agree. That is why I want it explained. If this is not artificial, she should explain. Her administration must explain, so must her candidate,” he said, apparently referring to administration bet Gilbert Teodoro Jr., former defense secretary.

“When you have no power, it becomes a security issue eventually,” he said.

Gordon also said frequent power interruptions don’t only cause inconvenience but also drive away investors.

“Why are we having power interruptions? That is not only inconveniencing a lot of people, it will also bring power costs up again when they buy, and above all, it will discourage investments,” he said.

“My priority now is to catch up. We are listing, meaning we have not been providing enough power to our country and I highly suspect it is deliberate. I think the government should be made to account why there is a power failure,” he said.

Gordon said he was wondering why the Arroyo administration appeared to have ignored or missed the lessons from the power crisis in the early 1990s.

Gordon said if elected, he is willing to explore other energy sources including nuclear power.

“You are elected to make decisions. You need a higher electric cut, fine. Consider everything, somebody has to make a decision and take the heat,” he said.

“I can make those decisions. We want to go nuclear? I will go nuclear. I have always been for nuclear power but right now at Bataan, I don’t know, for safety reasons. But in other places more sound, will do that. We need nuclear technology anyway,” he said.

Gordon stressed it is the responsibility of government to provide the country with sufficient power, but not engage in the power business.

“Government is supposed to be out of the power business but it doesn’t mean the government can’t do it. Government must do it,” he said.

Gordon promised to be transparent in dealing with a power crisis.

“I would be watchful. I would have a report card when I become president on how we have performed and what were the lessons learned on the last power crisis,” he said.

“There you will see how much money was lost, which were efficient and which were inefficient,” he said.

The Arroyo administration is seriously considering a proposal from Energy Secretary Angelo Reyes that it tackle the energy crisis with emergency powers. This should involve Congress convening a special session and passing a joint resolution allowing additional generating capacity.

However, Congressional leaders said it might be difficult to muster a quorum because many lawmakers were already out campaigning for the May elections.

Reyes said Mrs. Arroyo could invoke Section 71 or the Electric Power Crisis Provision of the Electric Power Industry Reform Act (EPIRA) of 2001, which provides that “upon the determination by the President of an imminent shortage of the supply of electricity, Congress may authorize, through joint resolution, the establishment of additional generating capacity under such terms and conditions as it may approve.”

Ready for lawsuits

President Arroyo is prepared to risk lawsuits to address the worsening power crisis in Mindanao as she could no longer rely on Congress leaders to assemble a quorum.

“No, no. We will let Angie (Angelo) Reyes take care of the details,” she told reporters on the sidelines of a speaking engagement at the San Sebastian College-Recoletos in Manila when asked whether she would call for a special session of Congress.

Deputy presidential spokesman Gary Olivar said Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile and Speaker Prospero Nograles informed the Palace of their respective chambers’ inability to muster a quorum.

This prompted the Arroyo administration to consider bypassing Congress in dealing with the Mindanao energy crisis. He said leasing instead of buying generator sets may be allowed even without Congress approval.

But Olivar stressed they were not inviting lawsuits but were merely getting prepared to face one just in case.

“The idea is to avoid lawsuits – at least lawsuits filed in good faith as opposed to lawsuits filed with malicious intent – by making sure you’re on presumably good legal ground before you take any kind of action,” Olivar told a news briefing.

“But we need the nod of our lawyers before we act and that would probably be one reason why things would take longer rather than quicker. We have to be careful,” he said.

“Clearly how the Palace feels about it is really of secondary import in this situation,” he said of congressional allies’ failure to muster a quorum.

“We simply have no choice but to work with whatever latitude and authority we’re given. And, you know, we really leave it, at the end of the day, it’s the people who judge how well people have been doing their jobs in their various and respective capacities in government,” he said.

Courting trouble

Critics said the President should strictly follow the law in dealing with the power crisis if she doesn’t want to stir unrest.

“The President is courting trouble if she ignores Section 71 of the EPIRA, which mandates the executive to secure congressional authorization to enable Napocor to contract additional generating capacity,” Liberal Party spokesman Florencio Abad said.

“Whether it leases or buys or constructs additional generating capacity, government needs the approval of Congress. Doing otherwise reverses national policy which seeks the privatization of the ownership of electricity generation,” Abad said.

“Only Congress is authorized to do that. But the Department of Energy is not helpless in dealing with this problem,” Abad said.

Sen. Francis Escudero said whatever contracts the administration would sign without congressional approval could be voided.

“I warn possible suppliers of the inherent illegality of such contracts,” Escudero said.

“No matter how noble the intentions are, if that is indeed the case, it would still not justify skirting or bending the law,” Nacionalista Party standard-bearer Sen. Manuel Villar Jr. said for his part.

“If Congress intended that President Arroyo could do that without congressional nod, then it should have stated so in unequivocal terms. But it is clear and that is what should be done,” Villar said.

“She would be bowing out in June. She should think twice because she’s risking the people’s ire by disregarding provisions of the law in dealing with the energy crisis,” he said.

His running mate Sen. Loren Legarda, meanwhile, said the Manila Electric Co. might be contributing to the problem with its decision to raise rates this month.

“Increasing rates are band-aid solutions. We need to have a more sustainable and long-term solution,” said Legarda.

She was reacting to Meralco’s statement that it needed to raise electricity rates due to the adverse effects of the El Niño phenomenon on power supply.

“We can’t blame El Niño and climate change alone. That’s just one part of the problem. Government should have foreseen and prepared for the drought,” she said.

Makati City Mayor Jejomar Binay said only the Arroyo administration’s business supporters would benefit from the fast-tracking of power projects.

Binay, running mate of former President Joseph Estrada, also sought an investigation into the claims of electric cooperatives that the National Grid Corp. has been ordering them to cut their electric service even if some of them have access to additional energy sources.

“If this is true, then it appears that in some areas, the national government is creating the perception of a power crisis when in fact, there is none. And the next question to ask is who would benefit from such a scenario,” Binay said. With Paolo Romero, Aurea Calica, Christina Mendez, Rose Tamayo Tesoro, Jose Rodel Clapano, Donnabelle Gatdula

Karen Ang

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