energy crisis

What Mar Roxas, et al can learn from Jojo Binay

He must get under their skin. A lot. By them I mean the good governance (GG) club comprised of Mar Roxas, the Liberal Party (LP) headed by Senate President Frank Drilon and Budget Secretary Butch Abad, civil society and Big Business. As to why, after four years under an honest leader like President Noynoy Aquino (PNoy), who has been pushing for institutional reforms in the bureaucracy with some modest gains, the Filipinos seem set to throw their lot with someone in 2016 who does not come from their flock?

By ‘someone’ I mean Vice President Jejomar Binay, whom they regard as an apostate to their gospel of GG. He has the highest approval rating of any public official in the land including that of PNoy. The latest nationwide poll conducted by the reputable Pulse Asia shows him way ahead of rival contenders for the presidency. Even if you grouped together the support for Grace Poe, Mar Roxas, Allan Peter Cayetano, et al, Binay would still come out on top.

And nothing seems to be able to slow him down from claiming the presidency in two years’ time. Not the revival of old corruption charges against his wife, the former mayor Dr. Elenita Binay, nor allegations of misuse of PDAF by his daughter who is in Congress, not even allegations of overspending on a public car park by his son, the current mayor of Makati, seem to break his stride. To top it all off, the three siblings of PNoy have all but come out in support of Binay’s candidacy.

Talks of a merger between the LP and Binay’s party UNA as well as possibly extending PNoy’s term are all aimed at one thing: ensuring the survival of the Liberal Party as a fighting force into the next presidential cycle. But these demonstrate just how desperate the GG crowd is at the moment with elections in 2016 on the horizon.

It’s one big conundrum that bedevils them. If PNoy has proven that the GG works, why do/es his heir/s apparent appear/s to be languishing at the bottom of the presidential derby? And corollary to that, why is Mar Roxas, his partner in arms, not able to gain the support of more people?

It is no secret that Big Business supports the candidacy of ABB (Anyone But Binay). They are represented by Bill Luz, the former executive director of the Makati Business Club, who now heads the National Competitiveness Council, which is geared to lift the country’s competitiveness in the World Bank league tables, by reducing redtape as measured in the Doing Business Survey.

It is Big Business, also going by the moniker “civil society” that have been trying to oust the Binays from their perch as rulers of the Central Business District of Makati since the people power revolution ensconced them in city hall back in 1986. It is no secret that it is this group that Secretary Mar Roxas associates with, given his own family’s commercial background as owners of the Araneta Centre in Cubao.

Ironically, the way the Binays have fought off the pressure from the business community has been through an inclusive growth and development agenda in the city, something that the GG club have yet to implement elsewhere. The Binays have made sure that the business community paid their fair dues in the form of city and real property taxes to ensure that the lower income classes benefited from the growth of the city.

The problem for the GG crowd is that the Binays, despite being considered ‘stationary bandits’, have proven to be benign autocrats of Makati, fostering an effective program of human development among the poorest in the city that has become the envy of the rest of the nation, without sacrificing the growth and competitiveness of the city.

Indeed, in Bill Luz’s most recent competitiveness rankings for cities and municipalities in the country, Makati has come out on top. Now how can a city which is supposedly run by a corrupt, dynastic, autocratic family remain on top of competitiveness surveys and produce human development indicators that are the ‘best in class’?

The answer is not good governance, but ‘good enough’ governance.

Wait. Hold-on, you might say. The economic vibrancy of Makati comes from its business community. They are the ones who make Makati great. You would only be half right in thinking that. What makes a city competitive is the regime of taxes and regulations, as well as the quality of services offered to residents and businesses. The economic vibrancy of a city can be attributed to the business sector, and for that Makati only comes in second in Luz’s study.

At the national level, we have seen the limits of GG in formulating what Chalmers Johnson called a “plan rational” for the country to govern and expand the economic spheres of activity through robust, coherent policy and regulation.

If you look at the national economic agencies of government, they are in total disarray. The country is heading for, or perhaps already is in, an energy crisis, with rotating brownouts now a reality in several parts of the country (coming to your neighborhood soon, unless PNoy invokes emergency powers, says Energy Secretary Petilla). Power rates are the highest in the region and yet regular power outages may be in the offing in Metro Manila next year. This will severely impact the country’s competitiveness.

Then there is the so-called “ports crisis” as the logistics industry is up in arms with cargo unable to leave Manila’s ports due to no integrated master plan for Manila and the surrounding regions. The LTFRB has been in conflict with the MMDA, unable to process applications for truckers on time, which has led to the prevalence of unlicensed operators. Provincial buses are another cause of paralysis.

We turn to rail policy and here, it was not too long ago the manager in charge of maintaining the Metro Rail Transit came under fire for favoring bidders with close relations to his family. Frequent breakdowns and accidents have resulted causing the riding public to suffer delays and lower productivity due to inefficient public transport.

The PPPs that came into effect this year were improperly co-ordinated causing great aggravation to the motoring public as roads and elevated skyway projects have simultaneous commenced, almost in a mad rush to leave a physical legacy after PNoy steps down from office.

The airports have notoriously been a source of shame for the country being labelled the worst in the world. With the NAIA-3 becoming fully operational, some of the congestion will be eased, but only slightly. To cope up with increased demand, another runway at Sangley Point needs to be rushed. It took a decade to get NAIA-3 finally running, how long will it take for Sangley to come on stream?

Shifting to telecommunications and internet policy, we have one of the slowest, if not the slowest internet speeds in the region. Congestion experienced by networks has been the subject of much investigation in the senate as complaints of bad service permeate. It seems that the regulatory body in charge has failed to set the proper framework to ensure that services offered by private providers was adequate to meet the needs of an increasingly technology-connected population. The high cost and poor quality of service again affects our global competitiveness.

Transportation, information technology, communications, and energy policies all play a significant part in expanding the economic activity of a nation and are a major input to the cost of basic goods. Without robust regulatory agencies staffed with people who have not worked for the big players or are in cahoots with them, supported by a good attraction and retention policy, the result is what we see.

Secretary Mar Roxas was in charge of the Department of Transport and Communication for a good period of time. The policy frameworks in the areas of air, port, rail, logistics, information and communication were within the scope of his portfolio. The current secretary was apparently hand-picked by him. The GG agenda seems to have stalled if not utterly failed to set the right framework for future growth. Electricity, transport and communications policies are all in shambles.

Yet, PNoy’s presidency has almost solely been devoted to improving the expenditure side of government through reforms in the Department of Budget and Management. For an administration to be so focused on the efficiency of government expenditure means it concerns itself with only one fifth of our economy (which is what the national budget represents). The economic regulations, however, affect the whole economy because of their impact on both the public and private sectors.

The reason why PNoy was so focused on reforming the budget process? He wanted to prove that his GG mantra works. And yet, all that happened was a slowdown of expenditure in the first two years of his presidency, leading to a halving of economic growth. His budget department tried to fix this with the Disbursement Acceleration Program, which has now gone down in flames.

The LP through Sec Abad is now pushing for bottom-up or participatory budgeting through local government units with Mar Roxas, now secretary for the interior and local government in charge of handing out grants to them. Can the GG club redeem itself, following the DAP debacle in the lead up to the elections?

The problem with this scheme is that expenditure is only one side of local government success. You need a proper taxation regime in place. When Jejomar Binay spoke before the influential Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D. C., he narrated the challenge he faced when he first became mayor of Makati. The city’s finances were in disarray, experiencing chronic deficits. He needed to fix it through proper revenue measures to improve the quality and availability of services.

PNoy entered Malacanang Palace with a “no new taxes” pledge, which has resulted in no new revenue measures being passed except for the sin tax law, which Frank Drilon championed in the senate. Unfortunately, this pledge has limited his ability to fulfill his social contract with the Filipino people.

Meanwhile his acolytes in the senate keep proposing measures to erode the tax base by increasing exemptions, or reducing tax rates. They also want to increase the salaries and benefits of government employees, en masse, thereby putting upward pressure on spending. These senators, who have not had a day of executive experience in their political lives, would not know how to balance a budget if they were to succeed PNoy in 2016. And yet each of them would vie for the mantle of GG.

The social contract came with the age of enlightenment in Europe. The covenant entered into by the state and industry was one whereby taxes would be imposed on businesses; and in return, the state would provide basic public education and sanitation to provide a healthy, literate workforce for the factories being built during the Industrial Revolution. Here we are in the 21st Century and the proponents of our social contract do not understand the essential bargain required to educate masses with the skills needed for the Information/Digital Age.

The GG club’s approach to higher education is to shut down erring schools. PNoy said he charged CHED Chair Licuanan with closing the nursing schools who were producing graduates that did not pass the nursing board exams. She then proceeded to form “commandos” to do just that. Three years later, and according to the government’s own statistical report card, the proportion of board passers has actually declined, not risen. What happened here? Did they really go after erring schools, or just the ones that posed a threat to the big universities?

Meanwhile there is still not an adequate level of financing for higher education in place that would make tertiary education an entitlement, and lift the quality of the sector. Our universities continue to slide down the global league tables.

In each of these policy spheres, the responsible agencies have been susceptible, if not downright captured by large industry players whom they were meant to regulate. Policies are not being developed by independent agencies. As a result, the needs of clients and the nation at large have not been looked after. There is no long-term view to policy. In addition, the technical and leadership capacities of people running these agencies is severely hampered by a lack of proper resourcing.

For the economy to expand rapidly, it requires rational players in economic agencies who come from the best and brightest. These individuals need to be selected on the basis of merit. They need to have the resources to be able to fulfill their mandate. Our competitiveness and future economic vibrancy depend on that happening.

Coming back to Jojo Binay. If you look at the performance of his own housing portfolio through the government’s own statistical scorecard, his agencies look like they are hitting their targets. This is again another feather in his cap—unlike the GG scorecard, which shows PNoy’s government failing in all but one indicator of the World Governance Indicators, the one for political stability, which has come about through his popularity and taking care of the military and police through the budget.

As we come to the final third of PNoy’s presidency, it does not look like the GG goals are going to be met, nor do we find a rational set of policies being laid down to govern the economy’s expansion. For investments and jobs to be created, we need to have a high performing economic bureaucracy taking charge of all these policy areas. Unfortunately, so far we have not built that capacity and the results speak for themselves.

What Mar Roxas, et al from the GG club can learn from Jojo Binay is the following:

  1. Governance is in the doing, not the talking.
  2. Governance is about developing rational, long range policy, independent of vested interests, i.e. the major players in industry.
  3. Governance needs to be felt on the ground for it to be sustainable.

The Binays represent a formula of benign, “good enough” governance that has worked at the local level for over two decades. For Mar and the rest to offer a viable alternative to him, they will need to provide us with concrete evidence that their formula for GG has done what Binay and Makati has been able to achieve. Sans that documentary proof, they might as well throw in the towel.

Our experience with PNoy has exposed the limits of GG. The thesis that kung walap corrupt, walang mahirap. Binay on the other hand has proven the success of “good enough” governance. It has proven to be more appropriate given our stage in development to be content with setting the framework for business to thrive and expand, while ensuring that they pay their fair share to make this growth inclusive.

It doesn’t matter that he has acted like a “stationary bandit” preying on the rich to give to the poor, while ensuring that the rich still get to keep their wealth and build their empires. It doesn’t matter that the Binays have amassed wealth in the process and have turned into a formidable political dynasty. This has allowed them to take a long-term view of development and govern the city without being beholden to the big end of town.

If the GG club want leaders who are honest, yet able to win elections without becoming beholden to vested interests, they need to initiate campaign finance reform and provide state funding for political parties. The only other option is what the Binays are doing in Makati.

Economic agencies are a rich source of campaign finance through the licenses, franchises and policies they craft that can easily be made to favor the big players. The reason they are weak in a developing and emerging country context is precisely to allow political bosses to use them as a source of campaign donations. You see the system is not dysfunctional. It is purposefully built to serve their needs. The only way to fix corruption and incompetence in these agencies is to finance political parties so that they do not have to depend on them as a source of funding. Then invest in their capacity and upkeep.

If we don’t fix this, then we should not complain that our choices come election time are so limited.

Japan, the Persian Gulf and Energy

y George Friedman

Over the past week, everything seemed to converge on energy. The unrest in the Persian Gulf raised the specter of the disruption of oil supplies to the rest of the world, and an earthquake in Japan knocked out a string of nuclear reactors with potentially devastating effect. Japan depends on nuclear energy and it depends on the Persian Gulf, which is where it gets most of its oil. It was, therefore, a profoundly bad week for Japan, not only because of the extensive damage and human suffering but also because Japan was being shown that it can’t readily escape the realities of geography.

Japan is the world’s third-largest economy, a bit behind China now. It is also the third-largest industrial economy, behind only the United States and China. Japan’s problem is that its enormous industrial plant is built in a country almost totally devoid of mineral resources. It must import virtually all of the metals and energy that it uses to manufacture industrial products. It maintains stockpiles, but should those stockpiles be depleted and no new imports arrive, Japan stops being an industrial power.

 

The Geography of Oil

 

There are multiple sources for many of the metals Japan imports, so that if supplies stop flowing from one place it can get them from other places. The geography of oil is more limited. In order to access the amount of oil Japan needs, the only place to get it is the Persian Gulf. There are other places to get some of what Japan needs, but it cannot do without the Persian Gulf for its oil.

This past week, we saw that this was a potentially vulnerable source. The unrest that swept the western littoral of the Arabian Peninsula and the ongoing tension between the Saudis and Iranians, as well as the tension between Iran and the United States, raised the possibility of disruptions. The geography of the Persian Gulf is extraordinary. It is a narrow body of water opening into a narrow channel through the Strait of Hormuz. Any diminution of the flow from any source in the region, let alone the complete closure of the Strait of Hormuz, would have profound implications for the global economy.

For Japan it could mean more than higher prices. It could mean being unable to secure the amount of oil needed at any price. The movement of tankers, the limits on port facilities and long-term contracts that commit oil to other places could make it impossible for Japan to physically secure the oil it needs to run its industrial plant. On an extended basis, this would draw down reserves and constrain Japan’s economy dramatically. And, obviously, when the world’s third-largest industrial plant drastically slows, the impact on the global supply chain is both dramatic and complex.

In 1973, the Arab countries imposed an oil embargo on the world. Japan, entirely dependent on imported oil, was hit not only by high prices but also by the fact that it could not obtain enough fuel to keep going. While the embargo lasted only five months, the oil shock, as the Japanese called it, threatened Japan’s industrial capability and shocked it into remembering its vulnerability. Japan relied on the United States to guarantee its oil supplies. The realization that the United States couldn’t guarantee those supplies created a political crisis parallel to the economic one. It is one reason the Japanese are hypersensitive to events in the Persian Gulf and to the security of the supply lines running out of the region.

Regardless of other supplies, Japan will always import nearly 100 percent of its oil from other countries. If it cuts its consumption by 90 percent, it still imports nearly 100 percent of its oil. And to the extent that the Japanese economy requires oil — which it does — it is highly vulnerable to events in the Persian Gulf.

It is to mitigate the risk of oil dependency — which cannot be eliminated altogether by any means — that Japan employs two alternative fuels: It is the world’s largest importer of seaborne coal, and it has become the third-largest producer of electricity from nuclear reactors, ranking after the United States and France in total amount produced. One-third of its electricity production comes from nuclear power plants. Nuclear power was critical to both Japan’s industrial and national security strategy. It did not make Japan self-sufficient, since it needed to import coal and nuclear fuel, but access to these resources made it dependent on countries like Australia, which does not have choke points like Hormuz.

It is in this context that we need to understand the Japanese prime minister’s statement that Japan was facing its worst crisis since World War II. First, the earthquake and the resulting damage to several of Japan’s nuclear reactors created a long-term regional energy shortage in Japan that, along with the other damage caused by the earthquake, would certainly affect the economy. But the events in the Persian Gulf also raised the 1973 nightmare scenario for the Japanese. Depending how events evolved, the Japanese pipeline from the Persian Gulf could be threatened in a way that it had not been since 1973. Combined with the failure of several nuclear reactors, the Japanese economy is at risk.

The comparison with World War II was apt since it also began, in a way, with an energy crisis. The Japanese had invaded China, and after the fall of the Netherlands (which controlled today’s Indonesia) and France (which controlled Indochina), Japan was concerned about agreements with France and the Netherlands continuing to be honored. Indochina supplied Japan with tin and rubber, among other raw materials. The Netherlands East Indies supplied oil. When the Japanese invaded Indochina, the United States both cut off oil shipments from the United States and started buying up oil from the Netherlands East Indies to keep Japan from getting it. The Japanese were faced with the collapse of their economy or war with the United States. They chose Pearl Harbor.

Today’s situation is in no way comparable to what happened in 1941 except for the core geopolitical reality. Japan is dependent on imports of raw materials and particularly oil. Anything that interferes with the flow of oil creates a crisis in Japan. Anything that risks a cutoff makes Japan uneasy. Add an earthquake destroying part of its energy-producing plant and you force Japan into a profound internal crisis. However, it is essential to understand what energy has meant to Japan historically — miscalculation about it led to national disaster and access to it remains Japan’s psychological as well as physical pivot.

 

Japan’s Nuclear Safety Net

 

Japan is still struggling with the consequences of its economic meltdown in the early 1990s. Rapid growth with low rates of return on capital created a massive financial crisis. Rather than allow a recession to force a wave of bankruptcies and unemployment, the Japanese sought to maintain their tradition of lifetime employment. To do that Japan had to keep interest rates extremely low and accept little or no economic growth. It achieved its goal, relatively low unemployment, but at the cost of a large debt burden and a long-term sluggish economy.

The Japanese were beginning to struggle with the question of what would come after a generation of economic stagnation and full employment. They had clearly not yet defined a path, although there was some recognition that a generation’s economic reality could not sustain itself. The changes that Japan would face were going to be wrenching, and even under the best of circumstances, they would be politically difficult to manage. Suddenly, Japan is not facing the best of circumstances.

It is not yet clear how devastating the nuclear-reactor damage will prove to be, but the situation appears to be worsening. What is clear is that the potential crisis in the Persian Gulf, the loss of nuclear reactors and the rising radiation levels will undermine the confidence of the Japanese. Beyond the human toll, these reactors were Japan’s hedge against an unpredictable world. They gave it control of a substantial amount of its energy production. Even if the Japanese still had to import coal and oil, there at least a part of their energy structure was largely under their own control and secure. Japan’s nuclear power sector seemed invulnerable, which no other part of its energy infrastructure was. For Japan, a country that went to war with the United States over energy in 1941 and was devastated as a result, this was no small thing. Japan had a safety net.

The safety net was psychological as much as anything. The destruction of a series of nuclear reactors not only creates energy shortages and fear of radiation; it also drives home the profound and very real vulnerability underlying all of Japan’s success. Japan does not control the source of its oil, it does not control the sea lanes over which coal and other minerals travel, and it cannot be certain that its nuclear reactors will not suddenly be destroyed. To the extent that economics and politics are psychological, this is a huge blow. Japan lives in constant danger, both from nature and from geopolitics. What the earthquake drove home was just how profound and how dangerous Japan’s world is. It is difficult to imagine another industrial economy as inherently insecure as Japan’s. The earthquake will impose many economic constraints on Japan that will significantly complicate its emergence from its post-boom economy, but one important question is the impact on the political system. Since World War II, Japan has coped with its vulnerability by avoiding international entanglements and relying on its relationship with the United States. It sometimes wondered whether the United States, with its sometimes-unpredictable military operations, was more of a danger than a guarantor, but its policy remained intact.

It is not the loss of the reactors that will shake Japan the most but the loss of the certainty that the reactors were their path to some degree of safety, along with the added burden on the economy. The question is how the political system will respond. In dealing with the Persian Gulf, will Japan continue to follow the American lead or will it decide to take a greater degree of control and follow its own path? The likelihood is that a shaken self-confidence will make Japan more cautious and even more vulnerable. But it is interesting to look at Japanese history and realize that sometimes, and not always predictably, Japan takes insecurity as a goad to self-assertion.

This was no ordinary earthquake in magnitude or in the potential impact on Japan’s view of the world. The earthquake shook a lot of pieces loose, not the least of which were in the Japanese psyche. Japan has tried to convince itself that it had provided a measure of security with nuclear plants and an alliance with the United States. Given the earthquake and situation in the Persian Gulf, recalculation is in order. But Japan is a country that has avoided recalculation for a long time. The question now is whether the extraordinary vulnerability exposed by the quake will be powerful enough to shake Japan into recalculating its long-standing political system.

Japan, the Persian Gulf and Energy is republished with permission of STRATFOR.

Estrada calls Reyes 'incompetent'

Estrada calls Reyes ‘incompetent’
By Roel Pareño
The Philippine Star

ZAMBOANGA CITY , Philippines  – Former President Joseph Estrada branded yesterday former Energy secretary Angelo Reyes as “incompetent” for his failure to resolve the power crisis in Mindanao.

“This administration is so blind,” he said.

“They have been there for nine years and they did not anticipate a power crisis will come. They have appointed people in the Department of Energy that are incompetent to address the problem.”

During his campaign sortie, Estrada experienced power outage in Zamboanga City.

Ilocos Norte Rep. Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr., whose province is powered by windmills, agreed that there is no quick fix solution to the power crisis hitting Mindanao and the rest of the country.

Speaking to reporters in Dipolog City, Marcos, a Nacionalista Party senatorial candidate, said the power crisis is a problem caused by the national government since it was already forecast seven years ago.

“I cannot see how suddenly we can find solution even using emergency powers,” he said.

“The only immediate solution is for it to rain and of course nobody can make it rain.”

Major cities nationwide have been experiencing rotating blackouts of up to 12 hours a day and businesses have been complaining of losing millions from the power crisis.

Marcos said more power stations, which he estimated to take three to five years to build, should be put up to resolve the power crisis in Mindanao.

“We cannot say the problem will be fixed tomorrow,” he said.

Marcos said recent government decisions were not based on technical or scientific data but on politics, like the recommendation of the Department of Energy for President Arroyo to use her emergency powers to address the power crisis.

“When technical and scientific questions are answered by politics, it is always wrong,” he said.

The Electric Power Industry Reform Act (EPIRA) has many loopholes that need to be overhauled to suit the country’s needs, Marcos said.

Enough power supply during polls – DOE chief

Enough power supply during polls – DOE chief
By Donnabelle Gatdula
The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines – Energy Secretary Jose Ibazeta has assured the public of enough supply of power during the election period.

“Just to make sure the plants are running well and mitigating it by looking at embedded generators. Everything is planned, and the generators have been maintained now in preparation for the elections. We have identified the embedded generators,” Ibazeta said.

He said what he’s really worried about is the power situation in Mindanao, especially with the elections just over a month away.

“I have no issue in Luzon and Visayas. The issue really is Mindanao,” he said.

Power deficiency in Mindanao remains at more than 500 megawatts. Blackouts lasting up to eight hours plague Mindanao almost daily.

Ibazeta said measures are being taken to address the problem, like rehabilitating plants.

“We are going to run at full capacity the Iligan (power plant). We will rehabilitate that (Iligan) in time for May,” he said.

He said the private sector is also deeply involved in alleviating the problem.

He said the government’s participation in private sector-led initiatives is through financing by state-owned financial institutions.

“I understand they’re in talks with DBP (Development Bank of the Philippines) and LBP (Land Bank of the Philippines) for financing. It’s all up to them,” he said.

“On deployment of generator sets, that’s already between the cooperative and proponent,” he said.

But Ibazeta stressed that Mindanao’s power problem requires a long-term solution.

“This (Mindanao power) is a medium- and long-term issue. What I’m doing is paving the way to address the long-term issue,” he said.

Ibazeta is an advocate of alternative source of power for Mindanao, whose energy needs are mostly supplied by hydroelectric plants.

“There are long-term possibilities that can happen. There must be other alternatives that we can look at, whether geothermal or other coal-based plants,” Ibazeta said.

He said there are available technologies offering cleaner energy sources, even for coal.

Comelec weeds out 704, 542 double registrants

Comelec weeds out 704, 542 double registrants
abs-cbnNEWS.com

MANILA, Philippines – The Commission on Elections on Friday said it has discovered more than 700,000 multiple and double registrants in its voters’ lists, thanks to a new computer program that checks voters’ registration records.

The Comelec said that aside from biometric scans and automated fingerprint identification system, it is now using algorithmic matching to check if voters registered more than once in different polling places. The program weeds out voters whose first, middle and last names and birthdates appear in different voters’ lists.

The poll body said Cavite had the most number of double and multiple registrants with 47,016, followed by three different districts of the National Capital Region including 2nd District (46,870), 4th District (46,281) and 3rd District (38,056).

The Comelec also found large numbers of double and multiple registrants in Cebu (23,602) and Davao del Sur (34,557).

The fewest number of double registrants were found in Batanes, with 46.

Last March 10, the Comelec en banc issued a resolution ordering the “abatement of the other registration records of voters found to have double or multiple registration records listed by the [Comelec information technology department].”

The resolution also directed boards of election inspectors (BEI) “not to allow these voters to vote in their respective precincts in the May elections.” It also ordered the deletion of the registration records of these voters in the next election registration board (ERB) hearings.

The Comelec IT department has already printed a list of voters whose registration records are not valid on a per precinct and per municipality level.

The Comelec earlier said it has weeded out 200,000 double or multiple registrants using its automated fingerprint identification system (AFIS).

COPW doubts poll automation

The Consumer and Oil Price Watch, meanwhile, expressed concerns and doubts about the state of preparedness of the Comelec to implement the automated election process by May 10 this year.

COPW chairman Raul Concepcion said that, so far, he is not convinced that the technology and equipment needed for the automation would be ready in time, stressing that it seemed many materials and training procedures had not yet been completed.e

“There is apprehension. They say they will have to buy new batteries, but you will buy all of that today? It’s too late! I’m worried about the state of preparedness. This is the most crucial elections in the history of the country,” he said

Concepcion said the energy crisis is also a concern, given the shortage of power supply currently being experienced in many parts of the country. He asked that power barges be purchased so that these worries are addressed.

He also called on the media and the public to attend the March 25th public hearing of the Joint Senate and House Oversight Committee to better gather information on the progress of preparations.

“The elections will be on May 10. If these concerns are not answered to our satisfaction by then, then I’m sorry, but I will be very pessimistic,” he said. Ina Reformina, ABS-CBN News

GMA open to emergency powers for energy crisis

GMA open to emergency powers for energy crisis
(The Philippine Star) Updated February 20, 2010 12:00 AM

MANILA, Philippines – Malacañang welcomed yesterday a proposal to grant emergency powers to President Arroyo in order to address the power crisis.

Deputy presidential spokesperson Charito Planas said Mrs. Arroyo would consider the proposal of Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez, a member of the opposition, to call a special session of Congress and declare a state of emergency in Mindanao.

Planas said the President would study the proposal, but stressed that Energy Secretary Angelo Reyes was already looking into the situation and finding ways to address it.

Planas also echoed the statement made by the President’s son, Pampanga Rep. Juan Miguel Arroyo, that the grant of special powers should only be considered “as a last resort.”

“The suggestion of Congressman Rodriguez was very good considering that he is with the opposition,” Planas said. “Let us allow the President to decide if she would accept that offer to grant her emergency powers.”

Planas emphasized that the government is on top of the situation and assured the public that the Luzon and Visayas regions would not suffer the same problems as Mindanao.

Crossing party lines

Rodriguez’s proposal was met with enthusiasm by Mrs. Arroyo’s allies at the House of Representatives.

“I support the move to grant President Arroyo emergency powers to solve the energy crisis and the energy need for the election automation,” said Deputy Speaker for Mindanao Simeon Datumanong, backing up the suggestion of Rodriguez to hold a special session for both houses of Congress in order to solve the energy crisis.

The 440-megawatt predicted power shortage for the month of May is one compelling reason for the special session.

National Grid Corp. of the Philippines (NGCP) systems director Carlito Claudio told the House committee on energy Thursday that Mindanao may face a shortfall of four megawatts on May 10.

The other day, Reyes said the power crisis is real and not part of a scenario-building ploy of the administration to disrupt the May elections.

He, however, gave assurance that the administration would see to it that there would be uninterrupted power supply for the country’s first automated polls in May.

He said the consensus among Mindanao leaders is the immediate acquisition of power barges as a short-term measure. The country relied on power barges during the power crisis in the 1990s.

Zamboanga del Sur Rep. Antonio Cerilles, chairman of the House special committee on land use, said the special emergency powers will help the President undertake immediate and necessary measures to effectively address the energy problem.

Cerilles said it is also high time that government seriously consider the use of nuclear energy, which he described as clean, cheap and sustainable. “Nuclear energy should seriously be considered especially by local government units which want to host it,” he said.

“The energy crisis in Mindanao justifies a need for Congress to hold a special session to grant emergency powers to the President. Such powers will help her act with dispatch to ensure implementation of vital measures to solve the energy crisis,” said Cebu City Rep. Antonio Cuenco.

“Our national interest is at stake here so we must help the President deal with the energy problem with utmost urgency through the granting of emergency powers,” said Cuenco, chairman of the foreign affairs committee.

“But the energy crisis has been projected. It’s time for government to act with urgency to resolve it. Giving the chief executive emergency powers will certainly equip her with the necessary powers to effectively deal with it,” said Bulacan Rep. Reylina Nicolas, vice chairperson of the committee on trade and industry.

Critical Mindanao

Officials of NGCP – an attached agency of the Department of Energy – posed no objection to the proposal of Rodriguez and said it was up to Congress to extend such powers to the chief executive.

“We’re going to ask Malacañang to declare a state of emergency and call for a special session (regarding this power crisis). We are all suffering in Mindanao. Twelve (12) million votes will not be counted because of this problem,” Rodriguez said in his motion, which was lauded by Ilocos Norte Rep. Roquito Ablan, an administration stalwart.

Claudio told the committee that there will be no power outages in Luzon and Visayas on election day, but vote-rich Mindanao would be “critical” due to a four-megawatt power shortage in the region on the same day, or two to three-hour blackouts.

He said the lack of power is borne out of Mindanao’s “full dependence” on hydro plants generated by the Agus complex and worsened by the El Niño.

He, however, said that this deficiency will be covered by the 50-megawatt power that may be provided by the embedded generators of private individuals – whom Reyes is currently courting – and 30 megawatt from Iligan diesel.

“If all the additional megawatts are available, then there will be no power shortage in Mindanao,” he said. The total required power needed to quell power outages is 140 megawatts for the whole of Mindanao for the whole month of May.

No need for emergency powers

However, the idea of giving the President emergency powers did not sit well with Makati Mayor Jejomar Binay.

Binay, president of the United Opposition (UNO) and running mate of former President Joseph Estrada, said Arroyo is already armed with enough powers to address the crisis.

“If powers to be granted to her will allow her to create enough rain to fill Mindanao’s hydroelectric dams, then I am for it. If it will serve as an amulet that will give her superpowers to drive away El Niño, then let her have it. With 52 percent of Mindanao’s energy requirements sourced from drought-hit dams, then the solution lies in having more downpours in order to raise the water level in these dams. If this is the solution, then the purported presidential emergency powers are as effective as a rain dance,” Binay said.

He said if the powers mulled for Mrs. Arroyo would merely empower her to enter into supply contracts with small power generator providers, “then such authority is already lodged with the Secretary of Energy.”

Section 71 of the Epira Law allows the National Power Corp. (Napocor), chaired by the Energy secretary, to generate, operate, lease power to consumers and the private sector. Epira refers to the Electric Power Industry Reform Act of 2001.

“Clearly, you don’t need presidential emergency powers to invoke this. If a flotilla of power barges will be contracted to shore up Mindanao’s power reserves, then their commissioning does not depend on the grant of extraordinary powers to the President. There are enough rules governing this type of procurement,” Binay said.

He said cushioning the impact of the rotating blackouts on communities and industries in Mindanao “can be effected by Mrs. Arroyo without resorting to legislative grant of additional powers to her.”

“If mitigation will be in the form of spending, then there is the presidential contingent fund in the budget which she can tap. In fact, she can divert allocations in the budget to programs that will help victims and businesses affected by the power outages,” Binay said.

The opposition leader also recommended the emergency purchase of standby power generators for Mindanao hospitals.

“You can purchase one without the need for presidential emergency powers,” Binay said.

If it is invoked, Binay said red tape in government transactions cannot be used in justifying the grant of emergency powers to Mrs. Arroyo.

Conditioning the mind

But two senatorial candidates are looking at a more sinister plot behind the projected power crisis.

During yesterday’s “No Holds Barred” forum at the National Press Club (NPC), Ilocos Norte Rep. Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. and Gilbert Remulla hinted that the present administration might be conditioning the minds of the public that power outages may happen during the elections.

Marcos also raised doubts about the looming water and energy crises.

“Is this deliberate as they are planning to do some maneuverings during elections?” he asked.

He added that the possible power crisis being floated by the government would raise doubts as to the plans of the Arroyo government during elections.

Remulla also aired the same concern but expressed hope that the blackout will not last for more 12 hours since the standby battery to be used by the Commission on Elections (Comelec) for the automated machines would last for only 12 hours.

“But it is also good that they said there could be a brownout during elections,” said Remulla, noting that this could serve as a warning to everyone to watch over their votes.

Marcos said the rotating blackouts being experienced in several parts of the country could develop into a full-blown power crisis if not handled properly.

He said the government agencies tasked to provide solutions to these blackouts should think out of the box.

“The situation will serve as a litmus test of the sincerity of the government in implementing full automation in the forthcoming polls,” Marcos added. “You cannot help but wonder about the timing of it all.” – Delon Porcalla, Ding Cervantes, Jaime Laude, Jose Rodel Clapano, Sandy Araneta