El Nino

Senatorial bets discuss teachers' rights, going nuclear amid power crisis

Senatorial bets discuss teachers’ rights, going nuclear amid power crisis

Senatorial candidates on Friday discussed the country’s present education system, stressing the need for protective legislation for teachers, who they said, must be spared from election obligations in succeeding polls.

Other issues discussed during Friday’s Unang Hirit’s Hiritan 2010: Senatorial Edition were solutions to the country’s current energy shortage, including a push for nuclear power; as well as the empowerment of the middle-class.

While welcoming poll automation, Liberal Party’s Sonia Roco (an educator) said teachers serving during elections are subjected to harassment. She suggested that public school teachers should not be made to serve in elections in the next polls.

“Magaling po ang mga guro natin… pero kung binibigyan po natin ang mga guro natin ng napakadaming responsibilidad na hindi ugnay sa pagtuturo, tulad ng pagbabantay sa eleksyon, dapat hindi na sila ang magbabantay dahil they’re subjected to a lot of harassment. Alisin po natin sa kanila ang [pamumulitika]. Huwag na po natin silang gawing active in the political process,” Roco said.

(We have excellent teachers, but they should not be burdened anymore with work that is unrelated to teaching – serving in elections – because they are subjected to a lot of harassment. Let’s spare our teachers from the political process.)

Also, Roco stressed that the education budget, particularly for state colleges and universities, must be reviewed first before proposals for budget increase should be made.

Meanwhile, Nacionalista Party’s Senator Pia Cayetano said she would continue to push for higher pay for teachers after the Senate overhauled a proposed measure teachers’ pay.

“We have unprogrammed funds – more than P100 billion, P56 billion from the motor vehicle fund, na walang destino (that are not allocated yet). Hindi natin alam kung saan ginagamit. Madali hong gamitin iyon (We do not know where they are used, and these are easy to reallocate to the education budget),” Cayetano said.

Former Cebu governor Emilio ‘Lito’ Osmeña, who is known for his administration’s development programs that triggered an economic boom in Cebu, said that the salaried class must be empowered to boost the economy further.

“We really have to develop the middle class. That’s the success of Cebu. How do we do that? First, by not punishing the biggest contributors to this government—the salaried class. The members of the GSIS, the members of the SSS, that money should be used only for them, and not for banks,” Osmeña said.

Osmeña, who is running under Progressive Movement for the Devolution of Initiatives (PROMDI) also served as chief economic adviser to former President Fidel V. Ramos.

Energy shortage

With public outcry over recent rotating brownouts stemming from energy shortage, Agusan del Sur Rep. Rodolfo “Ompong” Plaza of the Pwersa ng Masang Pilipino suggested nuclear power as the long-term solution.

I think in the long-term facing a big problem brought by El Niño, and eventually, we must add the base load generating power. Since using coal does not conform to the Clean Air Act), let’s be honest to ourselves, nuclear power is the ultimate solution, Plaza said in Filipino.

Cayetano, however, suggested renewable energy sources to solve the shortage instead and blamed the Arroyo administration’s inaction on the problem:

“Nakakalungkot ho dahil itong problemang ito ay dapat nabigyan na ng pansin ng administrasyon noon pang six years ni GMA. Napo-project po ang pangangailangan. It is their responsibility.”

(This problem should have been acted upon by the Arroyo administration as early as six years ago. They should have been able to project the country’s future energy requirements.)

“Mas mahal ang renewable energy, pero mas maganda naman sa kalikasan. So kailangang may balance. Marami pa tayong reserba sa Palawan na pwede pang gamitin for natural gas,” Cayetano added.

(While renewable energy is costlier, it is friendlier to the environment, so we must try to strike a balance. We still have a lot of reserves in Palawan that could still be used for natural gas.)

The four senatorial bets were all guests on UH Hiritan 2010 on Friday. — LBG, GMANews.TV

Tempers fly in vice presidential debate

Tempers fly in vice presidential debate
By Norman Bordadora
Philippine Daily Inquirer

MANILA, Philippines—ABS-CBN’S vice presidential debate televised nationwide on Sunday night lived up to its billing as a confrontation.

After weeks of blasting each other in the media, leading vice presidential candidates Sen. Manuel Roxas II of the Liberal Party and Sen. Loren Legarda of the Nationalist People’s Coalition finally traded barbs face to face.

Makati Mayor Jejomar Binay also renewed his squabble with former Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) Chair Bayani Fernando.

Broadcaster Jay Sonza of the Kilusan Bagong Lipunan and former Securities and Exchange Commission Chair Perfecto Yasay Jr. provided relief from the heated exchange, content with simply stating their positions.

The administration’s Edu Manzano stayed away from the debate barely two months before the May 10 elections.

The most sparks flew when an incensed Binay told off Fernando after the MMDA chair brought up Makati’s dirty waterways that his agency had supposedly cleaned up.

“Wow, we’re the ones that worked on that, Bayani. We spent our own money there,” Binay said, visibly trying to restrain his ire.

“I pity you. You’re envious of our city’s wealth. But we are using our city’s funds for its welfare,” he added.

Fernando slammed Binay when the mayor asked him if he would support an investigation of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s alleged wrongdoing.

“You’ve yet to do that?” Fernando said. “That has already taken too long. You are a lawyer. You’ve stood onstage to hit the President. Why have you not come up with anything so far?”

She didn’t pull punches

Legarda also didn’t pull her punches.

She told a teacher presented by the broadcast network that she was sorry that her bill increasing the salaries of public school teachers had not been passed.

“I’m not the chair of the committee on education. It’s Mar Roxas. I think not one hearing was even conducted on the measure,” Legarda said.

Roxas’ choicest words could have been his stab at Legarda’s decision to transfer from one party to another.

“Those who don’t follow the party rules … have no self-discipline,” Roxas said.

“I didn’t cry in the Senate when the impeachment trial of (former President Joseph Estrada in January 2001) was aborted,” he added.

Estrada’s allies in the Senate at that time voted to suppress evidence and prosecutors walked out.

Legarda, then a Lakas stalwart and ally of then Vice President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, later ran for vice president of Estrada’s best friend, Fernando Poe Jr.

Pro-poor pretenders

Binay, the third placer in the poll surveys, in his opening statement referred to Roxas as among those “who pretend to be pro-poor” but voted for the passage in Congress of the Expanded Value Added Tax (e-VAT) Law in 2005.

“This has caused the suffering of many of our people,” Binay said.

In the contest between survey leaders, Legarda drew first blood when she confronted Roxas with his vote to approve the highly unpopular e-VAT and his “watered down” version of the Cheaper Medicines Law.

She also questioned his family’s continued hold on 1,600 hectares of land in Rizal province despite the agrarian reform law.

“My family and I have heard these questions and sometimes we just laugh at them,” Roxas said, adding the dispute is in court.

Nothing wrong

Roxas showed no regret for his vote for the e-VAT that was widely viewed as the culprit behind the defeat in 2007 of its sponsor, former Sen. Ralph Recto, who’s once again running for reelection.

“There’s nothing wrong with taxation. What’s wrong is when taxes are stolen,” Roxas said.

He defended the provision of the affordable medicines measure giving the President the responsibility of lowering costs rather than to a board that would set prices. He said a board would only become another source of corruption.

“The Lipitor that you are taking used to cost P100. Now it only costs P50,” Roxas told Legarda.

Climate change

Roxas questioned Legarda’s priorities in making the environment her advocacy, noting that the Philippines accounts for less than 1 percent of the climate problem.

“It is a gut issue,” Legarda said. The Philippines is one of the 10 countries that would be most affected by climate change, she said.

The El Niño-caused drought that damaged crops and the floods that killed many people during the wrath of Storms “Ondoy” and “Pepeng,” Legarda said, showed that climate change was an issue that directly affected the people.

Sen. Richard Gordon, who showed up at the event to support Fernando, his running mate, expressed disappointment at the debate, criticizing the behavior of the crowds brought along by the candidates and calling the event “a mob rule.”

“There’s a lot of pandering … so much noise rather than reflections.” With a report from Michael Lim Ubac

Teodoro urges Mindanao residents to stop culture of violence

Teodoro urges Mindanao residents to stop culture of violence
By Jaime Laude
The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines – Lakas-Kampi-CMD presidential candidate Gilberto Teodoro Jr. yesterday urged Mindanao residents to stop the culture of violence that has been hampering development in the region and instead promote lasting peace.

Teodoro was referring to the practice of “rido” or blood debt, which he said stands in the way of progress in Mindanao.

The rido culture, a ritual killing anchored on revenge, is most common among Muslim clans as well as other tribes in the region.

“If we would persist in implementing the ‘eye for an eye’ for every offense committed against us, then the whole world will go blind,” Teodoro told local political and tribal leaders in Mindanao in a recent dialogue.

He said that while he respects Muslim traditions, there are some practices that spawn hatred and murder among members of the religion.

“If we can get our Muslim brothers to forget about this senseless tradition of rido and get them to stop carrying guns in their culture, I believe that Mindanao will be able to reach its maximum economic potential,” the presidential aspirant said.

He said Mindanao has vast arable land to ensure the country’s food security.

Teodoro said instead of killing each other, Muslims should establish a culture of peace to achieve economic development.

He urged Mindanao’s political and religious leaders to work together to stop violence and promote love and respect for others.

Meanwhile, two Lakas-Kampi-CMD senatorial candidates urged the national and local governments to implement cash-for-work programs to help ordinary farmers affected by the El Niño phenomenon.

Senate bets broadcaster Rey Langit and League of Municipalities of the Philippines (LMP) president Ramon Guico said the adverse effects of the long dry spell, particularly in Northern and Central Luzon, have rendered most ordinary farmers jobless with nothing to feed their families.

“People are starving in El Niño-affected areas and I don’t think we should just sit down and do nothing,” Langit said.

Langit said cash-for-work in all government agricultural projects, repair of classrooms and schools or other jobs that would involve fixing government facilities in the affected areas could be implemented.

The private sector, he added, should also be encouraged to support the cash-for-work programs by prioritizing the employment of affected farmers in some temporary jobs.

Guico, who is also the mayor of Binalonan, Pangasinan, said the food-for-work program would provide rice to feed the families of affected farmers instead of giving them cash.

He said the funds could come from the local calamity fund of each town or province or directly come from the government through the Department of Social Welfare and Development.

“If and when implemented, there should be some safeguards for the program so it won’t be exploited by the incumbent officials seeking reelection or running for other elective posts,” Guico said.

“Among them is coordination with the Commission on Elections and allowing trusted non-government organizations to supervise the cash-for-work or food-for-work programs,” he added.

Editorial: Blank check

Editorial: Blank check
Philippine Daily Inquirer

PLACING the entire island of Mindanao under a “state of calamity” allows affected towns, cities and provinces suffering from a severe power shortage to use as much as five percent of their respective budgets to fund emergency measures. This provision, however, amounts to a virtual blank check that unscrupulous politicians can use, not only to help bankroll their own election campaigns, but also to underwrite election fraud.

The deputy presidential spokesman, Gary Olivar, gave the official rationale: “The importation of gensets, maybe even power barges, which have much higher mega-wattage, will require calamity funds that will be mobilized by the declaration of a state of calamity.” There is no quarrel here. The Arroyo administration has failed to prepare for the onset of the (cyclical) El Niño weather pattern, despite being long forecast, and as a result, millions of Filipinos have had to endure rotating power outages that run for hours; the need for quick fixes is dire.

It is a usually hands-on administration’s unusual lack of control on the use of the five-percent provision that is worrying. All together, the total amount must run into at least a few billion pesos. (In 2009, the share of Mindanao’s local government units or LGUs in the Internal Revenue Allotment or IRA amounted to a total of P68.9 billion. Since some LGUs have other sources of income, the figure of roughly P3.5 billion, about five percent of the total share of IRA, represents the minimum amount involved.)

An administration ally, Cagayan de Oro City Mayor Constantino Jaraula, noted that “although there is a chance for abuse” of the authorization to release five percent of respective budgets, people should “assume good faith” in President Macapagal-Arroyo. But that would be like turning the clock to before July 2005 and the Hello Garci scandal. The public’s ready assumption of bad faith on the part of the President is one serious consequence of her persistent crisis of legitimacy.

In other words, President Arroyo has not succeeded in rebutting the firm belief of the majority of the people that she cheated in the 2004 elections; that she used government resources, such as the fertilizer fund administered by Joc-Joc Bolante, to buy political support; that she utilized soldiers of the military to help manipulate the vote in Mindanao.

It doesn’t help Malacañang any when a politically tone-deaf Ricardo Saludo, now the President’s chief spokesman, called the warnings raised by rival presidential candidates about a possible diversion of the five-percent funds a mere “campaign stunt to land on newspapers’ front pages.”

Is accountability in the use of government money now no longer important enough to the Arroyo administration that raising concerns about it is derided as mere election campaigning? The last time we checked, accountability is the principal responsibility elected and appointive officials owe the citizens of a republic.

Subsequently, Saludo fine-tuned his approach. First, he said, the Mindanao LGUs’ spending “will be subject to COA audit.” Then, in a radio interview, he said that the spending would be monitored by non-government organizations and the churches. “We have civil society and private sector observers,” he said.

Nothing wrong with either measure—except that, at best, they can only confirm wrongdoing after the dirty deed is done. In a political system that virtually leaves election cheats unpunished, this will have the effect of encouraging the use of part of the newly available money for election-related purposes.

Jesus Dureza, chief of the new Mindanao Development Authority, offered an argument from consequence: “The Mindanaoans are suffering and will never forgive anyone who would fool around with the calamity fund at a time of crisis like this.” That is likely true, but fooling around depends to a great extent on when the foolishness can come to light. If the dirty deed is done, it may be too late.

Besides, no one is seriously suggesting that all of the five-percent funds, some P3.5 billion at a minimum, will go to the pockets of the politicians or to election-related spending. We will see generator sets being purchased, power barges being leased, alleviation programs for hard-hit farmers being launched. But then election operators won’t need all of that newly vulnerable money; just a few millions here, more millions there—and the dirty deed of defrauding the electorate is done.

When straight emits the odor of crooked

When straight emits the odor of crooked
AS I WRECK THIS CHAIR By William M. Esposo
The Philippine Star

There is a paid TV ad titled Ituwid natin (Let’s straighten it out) that has been airing on ABS-CBN TV Patrol and Umagang kay ganda (Good Morning). It is hosted by showbiz personality Toni Gonzaga and she is assisted alternately by lawyers Geronimo Sy and Cesar Villanueva.

The paid TV ad is formatted to appear as a public affairs segment, similar to a typical talk show. It is well funded — PCSO (Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office, Petron, San Miguel Corporation and the DBP (Development Bank of the Philippines) among the listed sponsors. The PCSO and DBP are under the government.

One would think that with the devastation being caused by the El Niño, the funds of the PCSO and the DBP would have been better allocated for the affected farmers. Other than those affected by the El Niño, there are easily 20 other public needs the PCSO and the DBP would do well to address instead.

Ituwid natin purports to promote discussions on the gains and lessons of EDSA I and EDSA II and the roles of the presidents since EDSA I. But that is not how your Chair Wrecker saw it and yours truly is not alone in this observation. Two leading ABS-CBN news and public affairs veterans share the view that Ituwid natin is soft propaganda for massaging the exit image of Madame Gloria Macapagal Arroyo (GMA).

Normally, we would not take issue with that. GMA is entitled to put her best foot forward, especially now that she is stepping down from the highest office in the land. But when GMA’s image repair is accomplished at the expense of the truth — whether it is the failure of omitting the whole truth or of telling a lie — then we must expose and challenge it.

Watching Ituwid natin gives the trained eye the impression that there is another agenda being served other than to repair the image of GMA. That other agenda is to lessen the monumental image of the late beloved president, Cory C. Aquino, the historical titan the whole world hailed as the Icon and Saint of Democracy when she passed away last August 1, 2009.

For instance, the segment where RAM (Reform the Armed Forces Movement) retired colonel Red Kapunan appeared is the best proof of this insidious Cory bashing agenda of Ituwid natin. Neither Gonzaga nor her co-host challenged Kapunan when he stated that the RAM launched their coup attempts against Cory Aquino because of their deep concern that the Communists were gaining ground under her administration.

The truth is Kapunan and his comrades launched their coup attempts because they were out to grab political power. The truth is it was the militarization under the Marcos regime that promoted the growth of the Communist Movement and that it was the democratic space Cory Aquino introduced after EDSA I that divided the Red Sea like Moses did in the Old Testament.

The truth is it was the growth of the Communist Movement owing to the oppression and repression during the Marcos regime which compelled then US President Ronald Reagan to stop supporting Marcos and pushed Marcos to vacate Malacañang Palace. Up to February 22, 1986, Reagan still supported Marcos. Reagan only relented after then US State Secretary George Shultz impressed on him that the Communists will attain stalemate here within two years if Marcos remained as president.

During the Cory years, the Communists were thrown into disarray and fought among themselves because many of their comrades were tired of fighting and were convinced by the sincerity of the new administration and the attraction of the new democratic space. To prevent their comrades from returning to the mainstream, the diehards started their own version of the Killing Fields of Cambodia — slaughtering their own kind.

The Communist political fronts were all dismantled by the political component of the Cory Aquino administration’s anti-insurgency program which was launched by then Local Government Secretary, the late Jimmy N. Ferrer. Ferrer was assassinated in what was made to appear as a job of the Communists but would later on tend to indicate that it was a Right Wing job designed to promote more conflict that will weaken the Cory administration.

Unlike Kapunan, Hector Tarrazona, another RAM member who also helped oust Marcos, did not join the coup attempts against Cory Aquino. During the 1989 coup, Tarrazona was the most senior officer at the Fernando Air Base in Lipa City. He stopped the officers and men under his command from joining the coup. The plan then was for the rebel sympathizers in the air base to take off in the trainer planes and to drop explosives on pinpointed targets.

Another RAM member, Rex Robles, is still remembered for sharing his tears before a national television audience when Cory Aquino passed away last August 1, 2009. Those were tears of regret from Rex Robles which enhanced his manhood for having admitted a wrong done to a great president and to the country. In contrast, Kapunan would rather prefer to rewrite history.

It is bad enough that many Filipinos do not know the real history of their country. What makes the situation worse is the constant attempt to rewrite contemporary history just to attain political gain or to simply save face.

Not knowing our real history, we end up embracing our biggest oppressors and rejecting the nationalists who are fighting for the real interests of the Filipino people. Just to show how sick the Filipino national soul is, we have found it acceptable and legal to promote the interests of another country and deemed it criminal for Filipinos to protect their national interests.

As a consequence of our folly, many foreigners have become filthy rich from the natural resources of our country while many of our people remained misinformed, uneducated and impoverished. For not knowing the historical truth, the Filipino has become the biggest impediment of Philippine progress.

*      *      *

Chair Wrecker e-mail and website: [email protected] and www.chairwrecker.com

Palace: No need to worry about use of calamity funds

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

Presidential aspirants warn vs use of disaster funds in Mindanao for polls

Presidential aspirants warn vs use of disaster funds in Mindanao for polls

Following the declaration of a state of calamity over Mindanao due to the power shortage there, two presidential aspirants on Friday warned against the possible use of disaster funds for election purposes.

Liberal Party standard bearer Senator Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III, who is currently campaigning in provinces in the south, said that while it was President Gloria Macapagal- Arroyo’s prerogative to place Mindanao under a state of calamity, the public should monitor how the funds will be used to ease the impact of the power shortage.

“This government has shown its propensity to divert funds for political purposes. The people must make sure that the unscrupulous do not succeed this time,” Aquino said in a statement.

Declaring a state of calamity in Mindanao will allow local government units to use up to 5 percent of their internal revenue allotments (IRA), which are their share of revenues from the national government.

Senator Richard Gordon, another presidential aspirant, also said the government should have laid down its specific plans on how the funds would be spent to address the electric shortage.

“To me pag nag-declare ka ng calamity may panggastos yung mga tao sa mga mayor, gagamitin yung pera sa pulitika (For me if you declare a calamity the people, the mayors will have funds to use for politics),” Gordon told reporters in Santiago City in Isabela province where he is currently campaigning.

Ano gagawin nila, babayaran nila mga farmer? Babayaran nila ang mga negosyong nalugi? Hindi ko alam gagawin nila sa pera so I’m asking, what does a state of calamity mean when people have brownouts (What will they do, pay the farmers? Pay the businesses that suffered losses? I don’t know what they’ll do with the money, so I’m asking what does a state of calamity mean when people have brownouts),” he said.

Mindanao, which has a 700-megawatt power supply shortfall, is suffering from three to 11-hour blackouts everyday. The brownouts are expected to last until the El Niño phenomenon, which causes low water elevation in hydroelectric plants in Mindanao and other parts of the country, ends in June.

Since Mindanao is not connected to the power grid in Luzon and the Visayas, power plants in the two islands are unable to dispatch excess electricity to Mindanao.

On Thursday, Mindanao Development Authority chairman Jesus Dureza said President Arroyo has approved the recommendation of the National Disaster Coordinating Council (NDCC) to declare a state of calamity so that local government units can use their calamity funds to remedy or alleviate the power crisis. [See: Arroyo approves state of calamity in Mindanao] – Johanna Camille Sisante and Aie Balagtas See/RSJ, GMANews.TV

Guingona: DA, NFA executives making millions

Guingona: DA, NFA executives making millions
The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines – Opposition Rep. Teofisto Guingona III claimed yesterday that so-called “crocodiles” or corrupt government officials are raking in millions of dollars in commissions on rice importations.

Guingona, a congressman of Bukidnon and a senatorial candidate of the Liberal Party, said these officials, whom he did not identify, are apparently behind the government’s decision to increase rice imports even before experts could ascertain the extent of damage to farming caused by the El Niño dry spell.

“Total imports this year will hit a record high of 2.45 million metric tons (49 million 50-kilo bags),” he said.

He said it is common knowledge in the rice industry that there is big money to be made from rice importation.

A rice importer interviewed by ABS-CBN Channel 2’s Anthony Taberna claimed that there used to be a commission of $25 to $30 per metric ton of imported rice.

“That is no longer the case. The commission has increased to $80-$100 per metric ton,” he said.

The importer, who was not identified for security reasons, claimed that an “influential personality and corrupt officials from the Department of Agriculture and National Food Authority (NFA)” are among those who share the huge commissions.

He said there are commissions to be made even from rice imports arranged on a government-to-government basis.

Taberna also reported that the findings of the Commission on Audit showed that between 2004 and 2007, the Arroyo administration had authorized the importation of rice even when there were no clear indications of a supply shortage.

Auditors also discovered that imported rice that arrived in the country were less in volume that what was ordered.

Guingona said the next administration should review the continued existence of NFA and its role in rice importation.

He said rice importation could be left to private rice traders and farmers’ cooperatives, while NFA’s role could be limited to “logistics provider.”

He said taxpayers should not continue paying for the financial losses of NFA.

This year alone, the agency’s losses could reach P194 billion, he added.

He pointed out that another option is to sell NFA to pay part of its liabilities.

Two weeks ago, some rice traders accused the NFA of changing its importation rules apparently to favor certain importers.

Agency officials, however, dismissed the complainants as sore losers who were not given permits to avail of the tax free importation of rice. – Jess Diaz

'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

GMA may bypass Congress on crisis

GMA may bypass Congress on crisis
By Paolo Romero
The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines – President Arroyo is considering bypassing Congress in dealing with the energy crisis in Mindanao.

Palace legal experts believe an “aggressive” interpretation of the Electric Power Industry Reform Act or EPIRA may allow state utilities to generate additional capacity even without congressional approval.

Section 71 of the EPIRA prohibits the government from generating additional power unless allowed by Congress in a joint resolution. But even Palace officials concede that lawmakers, most of them busy with the campaign, might not return to work for a special session that will give the President the needed powers.

“It is possible that if we’re going to be aggressive, if our interpretation is that we are leasing additional capacity as opposed to buying or constructing new capacity, that (joint resolution) might be construed as something that we might no longer need – that particular section (Section 71) in the EPIRA,” deputy presidential spokesman Gary Olivar told government-run radio dzRB.

He noted some experts said that generating new capacity might be interpreted as acquiring or constructing generating assets.

“But if we are to lease generator sets – we won’t buy or own them – some lawyers might say that you can do that even without the special session,” Olivar said.

“Let us call that an aggressive legal opinion. We don’t know yet whether our legal counsels would allow this (kind of interpretation of the law),” he said.

The President has not yet given up on convincing congressional leaders to muster a quorum and give her the emergency powers to address the power crisis in Mindanao, officials said.

Olivar said a congressional quorum is understandably hard to muster nowadays as many senators and congressmen are now busy campaigning for the elections.

But Mrs. Arroyo, he said, would likely try to make another pitch for a special session.

“Whether because of their (lawmakers) schedules or because they don’t want to heed the call of the President, if we’re going to have a problem calling for special session, then there’s really only so much we can do,” Olivar said.

“We’ll do our best and let’s see the schedule of our allies in Congress,” he said.

Energy Secretary Angelo Reyes earlier advised Mrs. Arroyo to declare a power crisis in Mindanao to justify her invoking Section 71.

Part of Reyes’ recommendation is the lease or rental of 160-megawatt modular generating sets for Mindanao. The long dry spell brought about by the El Niño phenomenon has downgraded the capacities of Mindanao’s hydroelectric plants.

Worsening situation

The National Grid Corp. of the Philippines (NGCP) placed Mindanao’s available capacity yesterday at 741 megawatts as against peak load of 1,393 MW or a deficiency in reserves of 652 MW.

In contrast, the Luzon and the Visayas grids posted gross reserves of 787 MW and 94 MW, respectively.

Luzon posted power reserves despite the 95 percent reduction in the generating capacity of the Magat hydroelectric plant in Nueva Vizcaya due to the sharp drop in Magat dam’s water level to 154.66 meters from the normal level of 183 meters – the lowest since July 1991’s 149 meters. The NGCP said no power outage is expected in Luzon this week, but the low voltage problem in the Cebu-Negros-Panay region may cause some power interruptions in the Visayas.

NGCP corporate executive for Mindanao Ed Calabio, meanwhile, said the El Niño phenomenon is not the only culprit in the prevailing power crisis in Mindanao. He said the long dry spell brought about by the El Niño has only aggravated the situation.

“Even the rains won’t solve the power crisis in Mindanao,” Calabio said.

“Even if it rains, the power crisis in Mindanao continues because we do not have additional capacities as against the growing demand,” Calabio said.

Hydroelectric power represents 60 percent of Mindanao’s energy sources – 727.1 MW from the Maria Cristina power plant and the 255-MW Pulangi IV.

Diesel-fired power plants represent 22 percent in the energy mix; geothermal, 12 percent, and coal-fired, six percent.

“Since 2006 the power supply in Mindanao has remained the same while the demand has shot up to all-time high,” Calabio said.

“Even if Agus is in full capacity, we are still curtailing because we do not have the reserves,” Calabio said.

In Butuan City, Presidential Adviser for Mindanao Affairs Jesus Dureza said Mindanao consumers may have to pay four to five times higher electricity rates if quick solutions to the power crisis are adopted like the acquisition of generating sets.

But even before Dureza bared the likelihood of rising electricity rates, local power cooperatives in the Caraga region particularly the Agusan del Norte Electric Cooperative (ANECO) had already announced that it would collect higher rates anytime next month.

Dureza was in Butuan with New Zealand Ambassador Andrew Matheson and UNDP Country Director Renaud Meyer to visit projects in the so-called Peace and Development Communities, which had been rebel-infested areas.

“Mindanao’s growth is so fast and we have to accept the reality that we don’t have enough power, we just have to contend with rotating brownouts, there’s not enough power for everybody,” Dureza said.

But he stressed the government is doing everything to address the problem like reviving the 35-MW Iligan Diesel Power Plant.

“And we have arranged big companies that have backup generators to run their engines and generate power so that the power that they will be consuming from the grid can be parceled out to other areas,” Dureza said.

Sibulan hydropower plant is expected to be on stream this month initially with 26 MW and another 16.5 MW in April.

Conal Holdings, for its part, is building a $450-million 200-MW coal-fired power plant in Maasim, Sarangani, this year.

Is it really El Niño?

Also in Butuan City, Sen. Loren Legarda called on the Presidential El Niño Task Force to prove whether the abnormal weather phenomenon is really to blame for Mindanao’s power woes.

“I think the electric crisis in Mindanao is not induced by El Niño 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, Nacionalista Party vice presidential candidate, said.

Legarda also said that giving emergency powers to the President would not alleviate Mindanao’s power shortage problem.

“Instead of recommending the granting of emergency powers to the President, the Department of Energy must explore all possible means to address the present power problem in Mindanao,” Legarda said.

Nuclear power

Nuclear plants each for Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao may be the answer to the country’s energy problem, according to Agusan del Sur Rep. Rodolfo Plaza.

“Contrary to old beliefs, nuclear technology is far safer now than it was since it was first developed half a century ago. Today, many countries are shifting to nuclear power generation because it is safer, cheaper and considered to be more environment-friendly than coal-fired power plants,” he said.

He said if the country continues to rely on water to run its power plants, it would periodically face an energy crisis as El Niño is a recurrent phenomenon that could dry up dams and rivers.

Plaza, a senatorial candidate, pointed out that existing nuclear technology offers inexpensive power and less pollution.

“Experts have identified safer nuclear fuel source such as Thorium, which promises a new generation of clean and safer nuclear power,” he added.

He stressed that studies have shown that coal plants are even more deadly than nuclear plants when it comes to effects on the environment.

“Coal deaths don’t just come from mining but from burning it. Air pollution from coal-fired power plants causes 23,600 US deaths per year. It’s also responsible for 554,000 asthma attacks, 16,200 cases of chronic bronchitis, and 38,200 non-fatal heart attacks annually,” Plaza said, citing a report by the Earth Policy Institute in Washington, a non-profit research group.

“I will continue working for this (nuclear energy) until we become energy sufficient. I believe we should now set aside our indifference and embrace the benefits and beauty of nuclear power. It is the only solution to all our energy problems,” Plaza said.

Two years ago, Pangasinan Rep. Mark Cojuangco started pushing for the rehabilitation of the 600-megawatt Bataan nuclear power plant (BNPP) to augment the country’s power supply.

Cojuangco said existing power plants, mostly built during the Ramos administration, would not be enough to supply the nation’s electricity requirements.

He said if BNPP were operated, the cost of electricity in Luzon could go down by P2 per kilowatt-hour.

The provincial board of Pangasinan has passed a resolution allowing the building of a new nuclear power plant in the province.

Opposition senators and congressmen have blamed the energy crisis on President Arroyo’s “ineffective governance” as well as her failure to anticipate a power supply shortage in two to three years.

Cojuangco said it would take three years to five years to build a power plant.

By the time new plants are completed, the energy situation would be so bad that unreasonably high power rates would be imposed on Filipinos, he said. with Edith Regalado, Jess Diaz, Ben Serrano, Donnabelle Gatdula, Jose Rodel Clapano, and Charlie Lagasca