PMP bets vow review of flawed laws

PMP bets vow review of flawed laws
By Jose Rodel Clapano
The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines – Senatorial candidates of the Pwersa ng Masang Pilipino (PMP), led by Senate President Pro Tempore Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada, vowed yesterday to review the controversial Oil Deregulation Law, the Electric Power Industry Reform Act (EPIRA) and the Fair Election Act if they win in the May 10 elections.

Estrada told editors and reporters of The STAR that if re-elected, he would file a resolution to review the EPIRA and Oil Deregulation Law.

“These (laws) have to be studied. This is a very sensitive issue. I will manifest, once I win, to revisit the two laws,” Estrada said.

Estrada chided President Arroyo for appointing former secretary Angelo Reyes to the Department of Energy (DOE).

“GMA (President Arroyo) should not have appointed Reyes. I think he is not an expert on energy. She should have chosen someone with wide knowledge on energy. Reyes should have also declined his appointment as energy chief. Only I and Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago, among the members of the Commission on Appointments, objected to Reyes’ appointment before the CA. Maybe, Reyes had talked to other members of the CA,” Estrada said.

Estrada said he has also sponsored a bill seeking to amend the EPIRA co-authored by Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, his party mate.

“I forgot the particular amendments. I don’t know if the House also passed a counterpart bill. Maybe in the next Congress, I will push for it again,” Estrada said.

Former Negros Occidental Rep. Apolinario “Jun” Lozada said the Oil Deregulation Law is everybody’s concern.

He said good laws are useless if the one heading the agency to implement such law is not good.

Lozada said the Department of Energy (DOE) should reorganize following the power crisis in Mindanao.

“There must be a reorganization of the DOE from top to bottom. Who really is the energy czar of the country? Not only the EPIRA, but also the Charter of the DOE (has to be restudied). Who really calls the shots? There is the PNOC (Philippine National Oil Company), the NEDA (National Economic and Development Authority), and DOE. The law by itself has to be reviewed. Unless the people knew what they are doing,” Lozada said.

Lozada said the present difficulties facing the country showed that the power crisis in Mindanao had already affected Metro Manila where residents have complained of increased power rates.

Former senator Francisco “Kit” Tatad said the main purpose of the EPIRA is to encourage competition to lower power rates.

“It did not encourage competition and it makes the government powerless. There is a cartel among big oil companies. Cartel could drive away investors. It’s time to revisit it particularly in the face of the power crisis,” Tatad said.

Lawyer JV Bautista said the government must have full control of the industry to protect the people from greedy businessmen whose only objective is to gain more from their profit at the expense of the poverty-ridden Filipinos.

“We have an energy secretary lawyering for oil companies. Reyes, for not being able to do anything on the series of oil prices increases, said it’s deregulated. The state, during the Marcos regime, was able to control the prices of oil because he created Petron. It subsidized the oil industry and competed with privately owned oil companies. Why is it that every time there is an increase in oil products, the increases are not impeded, but when there is a decrease in oil prices, it’s not decreasing, NEDA says there is a decrease in oil, but DOE says there is none,” Bautista said.

Fair election act

On the issue of the Fair Election Act, Estrada said there are candidates who are now circumventing the law.

“They are using the party-list (groups) to have themselves included in the political advertisements. I’m in favor of revisiting the Fair Election Act,” Estrada said.

Estrada said the PMP has spent way below the allowed amount for the campaign.

He said the Fair Election Act was created out of the insecurity of politicians who cannot equal the wide publicity that movie actors-turned politicians like him are getting from media.

“Actors like me, who turned politicians, do not need political ads because the people are seeing us almost once in a while on television and in the movies,” Estrada said.

Tatad said there must be a complete ban on political ads.

He said candidates must not spend more than what they will earn legally once they win.

“If the candidates spent billions during the campaign, how will they recoup that once they win? We will need real electoral reform, not on the 11th hour… Who undergo the survey? What post the margin of error, etc. etc,” Tatad said.

Tatad said he wrote the Commission on Elections to enforce the provisions of Republic Act 9006 or the Fair Election Act on Pulse Asia, Social Weather Station (SWS) and other poll survey firms on their conduct and publication of survey results during the current campaign.

“I will be filing charges later. On our television ads, we should get 30 percent discount from TV ads, 10 percent from the print from the prevailing rates 12 months before the elections,” Tatad said.

Bautista agreed, saying that the Fair Election Act is turning into an “Unfair Election Act.”

“There must be electoral reforms. There should be no TV ads that are private. TV ads should be equal to all candidates. It’s not a matter of if I paid this much? The state must have a corresponding duty. Surveys should be regulated. If it has to be private, it should not be published. Mass media should not publicize it,” Bautista said.

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.

'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

President decides not to call special session

President decides not to call special session
By Christine Avendaño
Philippine Daily Inquirer

MANILA, Philippines—President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has decided not to call a special session of Congress to tackle the power crisis in Mindanao.

But the President did not say how the government would resolve the power crisis.

“Energy Secretary Angelo Reyes will take care of the details,” was all she told reporters who interviewed her after she attended a CAT (Citizenship Advancement Training) graduation ceremony at San Sebastian College in Manila.

Ms Arroyo’s remark drew alarm from Sen. Francis Escudero who issued a statement on Ms Arroyo’s “possible bypassing Congress” on the matter.

“If she does so then that will make the contracts she entered into voidable,” Escudero said in a text message.

“I warn possible suppliers of the inherent illegality of such contracts,” the senator added.

The President said last week that she had adopted the recommendations of Reyes to declare a power crisis in Mindanao, which has been suffering from rotating blackouts due to low water levels at hydroelectric plants as a result of the dry spell.

Reyes had said that the Department of Energy was not asking for emergency powers for Ms Arroyo but would want Congress to convene and lift a prohibition in the Electric Power Industry Reform Act so government could get back into the business of generating and selling electricity.

The energy department particularly wanted the state-owned National Power Corp. (Napocor) to lease modular generation sets to help provide 160 megawatts of electricity to Mindanao. Brownouts lasting up to several hours have been plaguing major cities on the island.

But congressional leaders said it would be impossible for them to convene a special session because lawmakers were busy campaigning for the May elections.

Deputy presidential spokesperson Gary Olivar Monday said the President was no longer calling a special session because Congress would not be able to muster a quorum.

Stop-gap measures

Palace officials were tight-lipped on how the government would be able to tackle the power crisis in Mindanao without Congress’ help. Olivar said Reyes would be in “the best position” to answer queries on how to address the energy shortfall.

Even without special authority from Congress, the Department of Energy has begun exploring other stop-gap measures.

In a phone interview over the weekend, Reyes said these measures could be implemented without the need for Napocor to again generate and sell electricity.

Reyes said his department was preparing to implement a supply-augmentation program in which big industrial firms or commercial enterprises that generate their own electricity would sell their excess capacity.

During peak hours, the industrial and commercial firms may also be asked to use their own generating sets instead of using electricity from the Mindanao grid, for which they will be compensated.

Reyes earlier said the energy department had begun asking those setting up new power plants whether the projects could be fast-tracked.

“Also, we are continuing our information education campaign on energy conservation and energy efficiency,” Reyes added.

The energy chief, however, could not say whether these measures would be enough to ensure adequate power supply before, during and after the May 10 elections. With a report from Amy R. Remo

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

Palace still wishing for Arroyo powers

Palace still wishing for Arroyo powers
By Christian V. Esguerra
Philippine Daily Inquirer

MANILA, Philippines—Malacañang is not giving up hope the Senate and House of Representatives can still convene a special session and grant special powers to President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to address the power crisis in Mindanao.

Gary Olivar, the President’s deputy spokesperson, Sunday said Ms Arroyo might ask her allies in both chambers of Congress, especially those running in the May 10 elections, to take a break from their campaign and attend such a session.

At the weekly Palace media forum aired at Radyo ng Bayan, Olivar said Ms Arroyo would resort to this course of action if the government could determine that she could not address the power crisis without congressional help.

Mindanao has been hit by crippling rotating brownouts because hydroelectric plants, its main source of electricity, are running way below capacity because of low water levels at their reservoirs due to the dry spell.

Luzon and the Visayas are also suffering from outages.

Busy campaigning

Speaker Prospero Nograles on Saturday said that there could be no special session of Congress because not enough lawmakers could commit their attendance to the gathering.

Nograles and Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile on Friday said they were willing to call a special session but doubted that a quorum could be mustered because many lawmakers seeking reelection or another elective office in the May elections were busy campaigning.

Olivar conceded that many lawmakers were busy on the campaign trail and might not be available to attend a special session to decide on granting Ms Arroyo the special power to invoke Section 71 of the Electric Power Industry Reform Act (EPIRA).

The EPIRA provision will allow state-owned National Power Corp. to contract additional generating capacity.

“If we will have problems with the special session then there’s really only much we can do,” Olivar said.

Sure to attend

Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez contested Nograles’ contention that there could be no special session because not enough lawmakers would attend it.

Rodriguez said lawmakers, especially the 61 from Mindanao, would attend the session since they were feeling the blow of the power crisis.

With this number, only 74 more lawmakers are needed to constitute a quorum, and he thinks that those from the Visayas and Luzon will join the session because they, too, are reeling from outages.

Rodriguez said he did not know why Nograles was opposing a special session when all of Mindanao’s residents and businesses were suffering from 5- to 12-hour brownouts.

Rodriguez, a member of former President Joseph Estrada’s Pwersa ng Masang Pilipino, said lawmakers were willing to cross party lines.

No need for EPIRA

Olivar said the Palace was also considering the idea that the government would not need the EPIRA provision and thus the special session to address the Mindanao power crisis.

He said the government would look into whether it would actually “buy or construct new capacity” or simply “lease” the generation additional power.

He said the latter might be “construed as something that no longer needs the section of the EPIRA.”

Power outlook

The administration should not forget the plight of daily wage earners as the power crisis in the country worsens, Nacionalista Party senatorial candidate Susan Ople said Sunday.

“The government should look at all aspects of the energy crisis, not just power supply but also dwindling sales and threatened incomes,” said Ople, a former labor undersecretary.

“What began as a power crisis can easily blow up into a full-scale economic and social crises as different sectors express dismay over the absence of any holistic plan to address rotating brownouts,” she said.

Power supply reserves in Luzon and the Visayas are expected to remain “thin” within the week as several more power facilities conduct their maintenance repairs, according to National Grid Corp. of the Philippines (NGCP).

“Barring any unplanned shutdown of two power plants at the same time, Luzon customers will be assured of uninterrupted power supply (within the March 6-11 period),” NGCP said.

Peak demand in Luzon during the period is expected to reach an average of 6,890 MW.

NGCP said Modules 30 and 10 of the Sta. Rita plant in Batangas (owned by the Lopez-led First Gas Power Corp.) were scheduled to resume operations on March 7. These units have a combined generating capacity of 500 MW.

The scheduled maintenance repairs of the 600-MW Block at the Ilijan natural gas power plant were expected to be completed Sunday, while the 600-MW Ilijan Block A will resume operations by March 11. The Ilijan facility is owned by Kepco Ilijan Corp. (Keilco)

The Malampaya deep water gas-to-power project, operated by Shell Philippines Exploration BV, is scheduled to resume supplying natural gas by March 12, according to NGCP.

This will help stabilize the power supply in Luzon since the Malampaya supplies gas to the 1,200-MW Ilijan plant, the 1,000-MW Sta. Rita and the 500-MW San Lorenzo plants of First Gen. Corp. All these facilities are located in Batangas.

The 300-MW Unit 1 of the Calaca coal-fired power plant in Batangas is still faced with technical problems. The facility, owned by DMCI Holdings Inc., is expected to go on stream by March 12.

To augment the power supply in Luzon, NGCP said the 650-MW Malaya power plant in Rizal would operate at full capacity within the week. With reports from Leila B. Salaverria, Gil C. Cabacungan Jr., Philip C. Tubeza and Amy R. Remo

Palace: No rush for session on power crisis

Palace: No rush for session on power crisis
GMA News

Malacañang on Saturday said it is willing to wait until June for Congress to hold a special session, if it so wishes, to grant President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo special powers aimed at addressing a looming energy crisis in the country.

In an interview aired over government-run dzRB radio, deputy presidential spokesperson Ricardo Saludo said Mrs. Arroyo is willing to wait until June for Congress to resume session, if it cannot muster the numbers to convene a special session now.

Ang pangulo, ‘di tatawag ng special session kung alam niya ang leader ng Kongreso, ‘di mabubuo ang quorum (The president will not call a special session if she knows the Congress leaders cannot produce a quorum),” Saludo said.

He added that the Palace is still holding “consultations” with its allies in Congress to see if the numbers can be mustered for a special session.

Saludo likewise insisted that Mrs. Arroyo is not seeking special powers to deal with the looming crisis other than those mandated by the Electric Power Industry Reform Act (EPIRA).

’Di tayo humihingi ng emergency powers, ito ay simpleng declaration ng power crisis (We are not asking for emergency powers. We are merely asking to declare a power crisis),” he said.

Section 71 of EPIRA states that: “Upon the determination by the President of the Philippines of an imminent shortage of the supply of electricity, Congress may authorize, through a joint resolution, the establishment of additional generating capacity under such terms and conditions as it may approve.”

Saludo also urged the President’s critics to stop putting political intrigue into the plan to call a special session, saying no other agenda will be discussed in Congress if ever a special session is held.

Huwag natin pasukan ang ibang intriga (Let us not put intrigue into this special session),” he added.

Get situation on the ground

Saludo likewise urged local and national government agencies to go into the field and get firsthand information on the El Niño dry spell, said to have been causing the country’s energy shortage.

Nananawagan tayo sa kawani ng gobyerno at opisyal, national o local. Direktong alamin at aksyunan ang kahirapang nararanasan ng sektor lalo ng magsasaka,” (We call on government officials and employees at the national and local levels to go out into the field and get information firsthand),” he said in the same interview.

Saludo likewise said that getting the actual situation on the ground would help the local officials make decisions that will address the problems in their respective localities.

Ito ‘di nakukuha sa pagmamando sa opisina. Kailangan lumabas tayo (Such things we can’t get from just issuing orders from our offices. We have to go out into the field),” he said.

State weather forecasters had earlier predicted that the El Niño dry spell will last until June. (See: El Niño: An Interactive Map) —Andreo C. Calonzo/JV, GMANews.TV

Government should adopt calibrated response to Mindanao power crisis – Recto

Government should adopt calibrated response to Mindanao power crisis – Recto
By Delon Porcalla
The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines – The government should adopt a “calibrated response” to the worsening power crisis in Mindanao and avoid a repetition of unnecessarily contracting independent power producers (IPPs) as it did in the early 90s that only overburdened consumers, former senator Ralph Recto said yesterday.

Recto, who is seeking reelection under the Liberal Party, gave the unsolicited advice that the power contracted should not exceed the demand.

“Contracted power should be at a level just enough to plug the shortage. If it is a small wound, would you buy yourself a warehouse of antibiotics?” said Recto, who previously served as National Economic and Development Authority chief.

Pangasinan Rep. Jose de Venecia Jr., for his part, called on President Arroyo to tackle the issue and call for a special session of Congress.

He said there is an urgent need to call for a special session “because this is a combination of electric power and drought problems.”

De Venecia recalled when he served as Speaker of the House of Representatives and leader of the administration Lakas-CMD party, he took the initiative to hustle up a quorum in the legislative chamber to allow the President to call for a special session and immediately tackle the problem at hand.

De Venecia agreed with the proposal made by his son and namesake Joey de Venecia III and Agusan del Sur Rep. Rodolfo “Ompong” Plaza to postpone the barangay elections in October next year and use the P3.5-billion fund to address the drought.

The President, through Section 71 of the Electric Power Crisis Provision of the Electric Power Industry Reform Act (EPIRA) of 2001, could seek congressional authority, through a joint resolution, to establish additional generating capacity to address a power shortage.

The President has also inherent powers to implement solutions without having to avail of emergency powers through Congress.

Malacañang yesterday clarified that President Arroyo never asked for emergency powers to address the ongoing power shortages in Mindanao.

Deputy presidential spokesman Ricardo Saludo said the President merely adopted the recommendation of Energy Secretary Angelo Reyes to declare a power crisis in Mindanao to invoke the EPIRA law.

Saludo reiterated that no emergency powers were sought or needed by the President as feared by critics of the administration.

There is no indication that the President would call for a special session of Congress so that this could be taken up and, according to Saludo, Malacañang is still consulting with the leaders of Congress.

Saludo said the President would not call a special session unless she is assured of a quorum in both the Senate and the House of Representatives.

Saludo noted the impossible task of getting a quorum since most of the lawmakers are busy campaigning for the May 10 elections.

Lawmakers led by Senators Benigno “Noynoy Aquino III and Manuel “Mar” Roxas said there is no reason for the President to call for a special session just to address the power crisis in Mindanao since the President’s inherent powers could be used to address the crisis.

They said the power crisis could have been avoided if the administration made preparations ahead.

Recto, on the other hand, said the outgoing administration “might go overboard in securing power contracts to fill up the wattage deficit and put power consumers at the losing end again.” – With Marvin Sy, Aurea Calica, Eva Visperas

GMA consulting with Congress on power crisis session

GMA consulting with Congress on power crisis session
The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines – President Arroyo is trying to convince both chambers of Congress to muster a quorum and pass a joint resolution authorizing government power utilities to increase their generating capacities to address the power crisis in Mindanao.

Deputy presidential spokesman Ricardo Saludo said Mrs. Arroyo has to use her power of persuasion because it would be an embarrassment if her call for a special session is ignored.

“These things (special session) are being consulted with the President and especially with leaders of Congress, who can say whether we can have a quorum, if a special session would be called,” Saludo told a radio interview.

“If a special session would be called and only a few (lawmakers) attend, we would just be embarrassed,” he said.

The long dry spell brought about by the El Niño phenomenon has crippled Mindanao’s hydroelectric plants.

Mrs. Arroyo earlier said she was adopting the recommendations of Energy Secretary Angelo Reyes that the Mindanao power crisis be dealt with by emergency powers.

Reyes said this would justify the President’s invoking 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.”

The energy chief stressed that he was not asking for emergency powers as provided for under the Constitution but only the one stipulated in the EPIRA.

Saludo pointed out that it is Congress’ responsibility under the law to set the terms and conditions for allowing additional generation capacities.

Pampanga Rep. Juan Miguel “Mikey” Arroyo, who heads the House energy committee, claimed he is not keen on bestowing emergency powers on his mother.

“I have always maintained that the crisis powers be only used as a last resort in dealing with the Mindanao energy situation,” he said.

“It is the Mindanaoans themselves, through their duly elected representatives in Congress, who are demanding invoking Section 17 of the EPIRA Law enabling the President to utilize crisis powers to contract additional generating capacity for the island,” Rep. Arroyo stressed.

“As the chair of the House energy committee, I can only accede to their demands. After all, they are the ones who are directly affected by the energy situation in Mindanao,” he said. “I believe their sentiments are truly reflective of that of the entire island.”

Visayas power ‘stable’

President Arroyo, meanwhile, said power has stabilized in the Visayas with the inauguration of an 82-megawatt coal-fired power plant in Toledo City in Cebu.

Mrs. Arroyo led the ceremonial switch-on of the P3-billion facility yesterday.

“This additional power signals the end of rotating brownouts in the Visayas, and also marks the end of importing power from Luzon, which is also burdened,” the President said.

She said she is looking forward to other power plants coming on stream in May and December.

The facility is the first of three units of the 246-MW coal-fired power plant of the Cebu Energy Development Corp.

The facility is a joint venture among Global Business Power Corp. (GBPC), the power arm of the Metrobank group, Formosa Heavy Industries Corp., Aboitiz Power Corp., and Vivant Power Corp.

‘Close to impossible’

In light of the bicameral setup of Congress, it would almost be impossible for President Arroyo to be granted emergency powers to address Mindanao’s worsening power problem, Speaker Prospero Nograles said.

“Just read the statements of the senators and you will already know that granting the President emergency powers is close to impossible. There must be some other way to address this problem,” he said.

Furthermore, he said, most of the lawmakers were already out campaigning for the May elections.

“Many of our senators are either running for re-election or are seeking other elective posts. This is the same case with our congressmen, so it would not be easy to hold a special session now even if the leadership of both houses are ready and willing to oblige,” Nograles said.

Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel Jr. said the declaration of a power crisis in Mindanao should not justify the President’s skirting bidding and procurement laws.

“But that (special session) is not impossible. Of course, we will have to see first if that will push through. We have to make sure they cannot use the money for monkey business,” Pimentel said.

“That is the problem here because if they will use special powers, then there is no more public bidding. They might buy more than what is needed and at high prices,” he added.


In Davao City, Nacionalista Party standard-bearer Sen. Manuel Villar Jr. urged President Arroyo to be transparent in forging power contracts.

“I want to know if this would also mean new power contracts. She should make public any power contracts because of the special power granted to her through EPIRA,” he said.

“We know that there is an energy problem that needs to be addressed. But we need to dig deeper why there is a power crisis and how this came about,” the NP standard-bearer added.

He also said authorities must explain why several power stations have conked out.

“I am just wondering, and I want to get an explanation why these problems came one after the other. The maintenance of these power plants should have been taken care of as part of preventive maintenance,” he said.

Administration presidential candidate Gilbert Teodoro Jr., for his part, proposed that government explore other energy sources, including nuclear.

He said the Philippines should take pointers from the United Arab Emirates, one of the world’s largest oil exporters, which recently inked a $25-billion contract with a Korean electric power company for the setting up of nuclear power plants.

“I don’t see the reason why we should not (explore nuclear power). Filipinos used to run the plants in Korea and Japan, I think. We can certainly do it here,” Teodoro said.

Less hydropower

Muntinlupa City Rep. Ruffy Biazon said the country should “reduce dependence on hydroelectric power and consider alternative sources of energy.”

“Since hydroelectric power is dependent on the water supply, each time El Niño occurs, we are plunged into a power crisis,” Biazon, an LP senatorial candidate, said.

“El Niño is a recurring phenomenon due to climate change and our geographic location. It means that the conditions that bring us to an energy crisis due to low water levels will be a recurring problem too,” Biazon noted.

“The percentage of power produced by hydroelectric plants is such that if their operation is affected, we go into a power crisis. Therefore, we should reduce the dependence on hydro or develop more hydro plants. Or we should look for other sources,” he added.

Businessman Joey de Venecia, for his part, said the Arroyo administration might enter into “sweetheart deals” with “favored suppliers” if given emergency powers.

“These Palace favorites are already salivating about how they will divide the estimated P10-billion worth of contracts being planned to fund the emergency leases of power barges which Filipino taxpayers will end up paying for,” the Pwersa ng Masa senatorial candidate said.

Malampaya reopening

Meanwhile, Shell Petroleum Exploration B.V. said it would resume operations of Malampaya natural gas facility on March 12 as scheduled and not on March 6.

“There seems to be a misunderstanding by some agencies that we are starting up earlier. Kindly note it is still as planned and committed which is March 12,” SPEX’s Karen Agabin said in a text message.

As this developed, the National Grid Corp. of the Philippines said Luzon and Mindanao will continue to have power deficiencies. This means rotating blackouts are likely to continue today.

Luzon will have generation deficiency of up to 641 MW. In Mindanao, the available capacity is only 751MW as against peak demand of 1,451MW. Paolo Romero, Delon Porcalla, Donnabelle Gatdula, Aurea Calica, Jaime Laude, Christina Mendez, Roel Pareño, Edith Regalado, Jose Rodel Clapano

NP bets: No to emergency powers for Arroyo

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

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

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

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

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

Buy, lease power barges

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

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

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

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

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

Golden parachute

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

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

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

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

Unused power barges

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

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

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

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

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

Special session

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

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

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

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

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

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

House hearing March 11

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

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

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

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

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