Palace: No need to worry about use of calamity funds
By Marvin Sy
The Philippine Star
MANILA, Philippines – Malacañang allayed fears raised by some politicians that the authority of local government units (LGU) to manage the calamity funds could become a source of corruption and abuse.
Presidential spokespman Ricardo Saludo, in an interview over Radyo ng Bayan, said that these comments, especially coming from opposition candidates, were expected as they would say anything get to their names in the news.
However, he said there are several mechanisms already in place to prevent such abuses, especially since all eyes would be on the LGUs in Mindanao to see how they would address the power crisis. It would thus be very difficult for them to divert the calamity funds for their own purposes.
He said the Procurement and Transparency Group (PTG), led by a representative of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, and other civil society groups and watchdogs from the private sector would be monitoring the activities of the LGUs.
He emphasized that the declaration of a state of calamity in Mindanao should prompt the LGUs as well as the Department of Energy (DOE) to take immediate actions to ensure that the power crisis is addressed.
Mindanao Development Authority (MDA) chairman Jesus Dureza, meanwhile, said that in a worst-case scenario, power providers should shut out supplies for users and divert power to polling centers to ensure that the elections in Mindanao will not be disrupted by the power shortage. Speaking at the weekly radio program “Para Sa Iyo Bayan” of Vice President Noli De Castro, Dureza said buying, leasing and using high speed generators would mean higher cost of power in Mindanao.
Dureza noted that the Pulangui and Agus hydro power plants that are daily sources of 900 megawatts in Mindanao are now only generating 15 megawatts.
As a mitigating effort, he said the Cabinet agreed on Friday to assist the private sector, which is considering leasing “quick power generating” machines like those used during the Beijing Olympics that can be installed in 30 to 40 days.
Rains hardly mattered
Meanwhile, intermittent rains have failed to add to the dwindling water level of Magat Dam, which temporarily stopped generating power for the Luzon grid.
“The rains failed to have any effect on the dam’s water level,” said engineer Saturnino Tenedor, head of the National Irrigation Administration (NIA) based at the Magat dam hydroelectric and irrigation project located along the Isabela-Ifugao border.
Tenedor said that despite the rain, the dam’s water elevation further dipped to 152.57 meters as of 1 p.m. yesterday, compared to 153.1 meters registered the other day.
Last Wednesday, the Magat power plant temporarily stopped generating power after the dam’s water level dropped below 153.5 meters.
For the Magat power plant to generate the maximum amount of power, the dam’s water level should not be below 183 meters, or at least its minimum operational level at 160 meters.
The state-run NIA, which still owns the Magat dam’s irrigation facility, said that it is also anticipating closing its gates for irrigation if the dam’s water level reaches below 150 meters.
The dam is the second biggest power provider of all hydro facilities to the Luzon grid after Pangasinan’s San Roque Dam, which is also expected to hit its critical level in the next three weeks.
According to SRPC vice president for social responsibility Tommy Valdez and NIA engineer Seferino Sta. Ana, San Roque Dam, which lies at the boundary of San Manuel and San Nicolas in Pangasinan, “is dropping at about .4 meters a day and at that rate, the minimum critical low level of 225 meters may be hit by April.”
As of March 12, the water elevation of the dam was at 243.56 meters.
The dam’s average daily power dispatch is only 66 megawatts (MW), 50 MW during non-peak hours and 95 MW during peak hours, the officials said.
At 225-meter water elevation, officials said the plant could only generate power and will not be able to provide water for irrigation.
No need for emergency powers
Meanwhile, Lakas-Kampi-CMD standard-bearer Gilberto Teodoro Jr. said farmers displaced by the impact of the El Niño should be employed by the government state-funded construction projects to ensure that they will have a source of income during the lean months before the next harvest.
Liberal Party (LP) standard-bearer Sen. Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III, on the other hand, is pushing for the expansion of renewable energy sources.
He also insisted that there is no need to grant President Arroyo emergency powers to address the power crisis, because there are enough laws to address the problem.
“She has been in power for almost nine years, and yet here we are still facing blackouts during a crucial election season,” he said.
He pointed out that it would take two to three, or even five years to build a power plant. But he acknowledged that there are large-capacity generators which government can buy to address the lack of supply.
The LP bet said he prefers developing clean, renewable energy because it is less polluting than fossil fuels. — Aurea Calica, Delon Porcalla, Jaime Laude, Pia Lee Brago, Charlie Lagasca