Rufus Rodriguez

Bayan Muna on GMA's plot: From No-El to Oplan Rafael

Bayan Muna on GMA’s plot: From No-El to Oplan Rafael
By Delon Porcalla
The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines – Militant party-list group Bayan Muna yesterday disclosed the Arroyo administration’s purported plan to stay in power, this time through what it called “Oplan Rafael” or Retain Arroyo through Failure of Elections, replacing the previous “No Election (No-El)” scenario.

“The game plan of election operators within the Department of National Defense and the Armed Forces of the Philippines has already changed from No-El to Rafael,” Bayan Muna Rep. Teddy Casiño said.

He accused Defense Secretary Norberto Gonzales of hatching Rafael himself after divulging plans of some groups to cheat in the elections on May 10.

“Rather than a postponement of the elections, the scenario builders and planners including Gonzales are now looking at a failure of elections to ensure (President) Arroyo’s stay in power.”

Casiño added Gonzales and the military, under the cheating operations, are also actively campaigning against the re-election of Bayan Muna in the party-list elections as well as the senatorial bids of Bayan Muna Rep. Satur Ocampo and Liza Maza of Gabriela.

He said Bayan Muna would file a complaint against Gonzales and Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief Gen. Delfin Bangit before the Commission on Elections (Comelec) for election offenses.

Casiño called on Gonzales to resign for cooking up these scenarios and making negative pronouncements about the May 10 elections.

Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez and other lawmakers urged Gonzales to just shut up if he has nothing positive to say about the first automated elections on Monday.

Gonzales earlier revealed attempts to cheat in the elections on May 10 have already started.

He said the military has started tracking down the groups behind cheating attempts that were to favor two presidential candidates he did not mention.

According to Gonzales, money is now being distributed to some Comelec officials and the military to ignore the cheating operations on election day.

Gonzales told the joint forum of the Bishops-Ulama Conference in Davao City last week that some members of the police and military, even from the Comelec, formed part of the groups behind the attempt to tamper with the elections.

Military and police officials asked Gonzales to prove his claim, but he could not present evidence.

The Comelec also summoned Gonzales, but just the same, he could not support his allegations.

Before this latest statement, Gonzales said the administration was preparing for the scenario of 30 percent failure of elections.

Sources say Gonzales’ statement on the supposed cheating operations instigated by two presidential bets is laying the groundwork for questionable election results.

“The people should always be on guard and immediately report any military involvement in partisan electoral activities, which include campaigning for or against a candidate,” Casiño added.

Casiño said they have evidence that indicated the military is also harassing supporters of Bayan Muna and those of Ocampo and Maza.

“We fear that the military’s attacks and electoral fraud against us will intensify in the coming days unless the AFP leadership seriously orders and sanctions all those involved in electioneering,” he said.

Assurances

The AFP, on the other hand, assured the Catholic Church that it has no plans to take over the government if there should be a failure of elections.

AFP spokesman Lt. Col. Arnulfo Burgos said Bangit gave the assurance vowing the AFP would protect the integrity of the elections.

“He (Bangit) reiterated his stand that he is for successful elections. He allayed fears that there would be military takeover or a junta. He said this will not happen because it is unconstitutional,” Burgos said.

Bangit met with the officials of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) yesterday as a follow up to the Bishops-Ulama Conference he attended in Davao City last week. – With Jess Diaz, Alexis Romero, Marvin Sy, Jaime Laude, Evelyn Macairan

Lawmakers to Gonzales: Just shut up

Lawmakers to Gonzales: Just shut up
By Jess Diaz
The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines – Congressmen want Defense Secretary Norberto Gonzales to just keep his mouth shut if he has nothing positive to say about the May 10 elections.

“He should put up or shut up,” Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez, who belongs to former President Joseph Estrada’s Pwersa ng Masang Pilipino, said.

He said Gonzales should have supported with evidence his claim that some candidates have started bribing military and police officers in Southern Luzon so they would take part in cheating for at least two presidential aspirants.

“If these alleged incidents were true, he should have obtained evidence like the testimonies of the officers who were supposedly offered money. Remember that the military officers are under his department. Better still, he should have arranged for an entrapment instead of crying wolf in the media,” he said.

Rodriguez said Gonzales’ claims only strengthen speculations that the administration is out to sabotage the May 10 balloting so there would be a failure of elections and President Arroyo would extend her stay in office.

He recalled that last week, the defense chief told a television interviewer that the administration was preparing for a 30-percent failure of elections.

Earlier, the opposition lawmaker accused Gonzales of meddling in the power situation in Mindanao.

Rep. Joel Villanueva, of the party-list group Citizens Battle Against Corruption, said the defense chief’s bribery allegation was “fueling the people’s fears of a no-election scenario, which will benefit GMA.”

He said instead of making “premature and worrisome” allegations, “he should have done what is necessary for both the briber and the bribed.”

He decried the defense secretary’s alleged propensity to float “rumors” that he could not prove.

“Remember when he was GMA’s national security adviser? He terrorized the whole nation by announcing that three foreign terrorists have entered the country.” he said. – With Paolo Romero, Cecille Suerte Felipe, Alexis Romero and Jose Rodel Clapano

Comelec junks parallel count

Comelec junks parallel count
By Mayen Jaymalin
The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines – It’s official.

The Commission on Elections (Comelec) will only conduct a random manual audit of votes in the coming polls and not a full parallel manual count as demanded by some groups.

The decision sparked calls from various groups, including lawyers and business organizations, for street protests.

In a seven-page resolution, the Comelec denied for lack of legal basis the proposal to conduct a parallel manual count in all precincts for the positions of president, vice president, congressmen, governor and mayor.

“After having taken into consideration all the submissions of the various proponents, and after having considered the opinions of those who stand opposed, the Commission concludes that it cannot conduct a full parallel manual count,” the Comelec said.

“The attendant risks to the stability of the electoral system are too grave to be outweighed by the promised benefit of parallel manual count,” the Comelec said.

“Conducting a hand count of the ballots will open up the possibility of errors in tallying, as well as provide an excellent opportunity for the perpetration of fraudulent acts,” the poll body added.

Various groups have been calling on the Comelec to allow a parallel manual count to validate the results of the first automated elections in the country.

“The language employed by the proponents of a full parallel manual count indicates that a mere difference between the results of the hand count and electronic count will be enough to trigger a full manual count of all candidates virtually scrapping the automated election system,” the Comelec said.

The Comelec pointed out candidates might demand the scrapping of precinct count optical scan (PCOS) count and a shift to manual counting and canvassing once a discrepancy is raised.

It added that a full parallel manual count would be extremely vulnerable to error as well as to dagdag-bawas (vote padding-shaving).

James Jimenez, Comelec spokesman, said a mere discrepancy of 10 votes could trigger manual recount and a scrapping of the electronic results of the elections.

“This discrepancy can also be done by anybody by simply smudging the ballots,” Jimenez said.

“More than any consideration of cost and effort, is what makes the commission extremely wary of accepting the proposal for a full parallel manual count,” the Comelec said.

The random manual audit would cover a smaller number or precincts compared to the parallel manual count, which was being planned for 76,340 precincts nationwide.

“The fact that random manual audit takes place in such a relatively small subset means that efforts to safeguard the process from errors and the introduction of fraud will be more effective,” the Comelec said.

At Malacañang, deputy presidential spokesman Gary Olivar said “we agree with the Comelec’s decision.”

“We will expect full and appropriate compliance with it by all parties concerned, and we continue to urge our countrymen to support Comelec and vote based only on what their conscience tells them—the two conditions for a successful and credible election,” he said.

Presidential spokesman Ricardo Saludo said the decision would allow everyone to focus “on getting the automated counting to work.”

“Everybody now can focus on their respective works to see to it that we are well prepared and ready for the first automated election,” deputy presidential spokesman Rogelio Peyuan said.

Bagumbayan presidential bet Sen. Richard Gordon also welcomed the Comelec ruling and lashed out at the Makati Business Club for floating a failure of elections scenario if a parallel manual counting is not carried out.

Protests

“We will join if there will be any protest actions,” Vitalliano Nañagas, Management Association of the Philippines (MAP) vice chair on the national issues committee said in a telephone interview.

“Since the PCOS machines have not been pilot-tested before in an actual election as mandated by law, the risk of the machine making mistakes at the rate higher than that provided for (one mistake out of 20,000), is quite high,” a MAP statement read.

“We are gravely concerned that without such verification of the accuracy of these machines, the election may not be accepted by the people as the true reflection of their will,” it added.

“We are not going to take this sitting down,” MBC executive director Alberto Lim said in a separate interview. “I cannot tell you our next move yet.”

The Alyansa Agrikultura and the Philippine Bar Association (PBA) also appealed to the public to protest the ruling.

“I will protest in the streets. The Comelec is useless,” PBA president Simeon Marcelo said. “They removed the number one safeguard when they eliminated the system that gives the voter a slip of paper confirming who they voted for.”

“They can elevate the matter to the Supreme Court. I will join them if they do that,” Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez said. – With Ma. Elisa Osorio, Paolo Romero, Jess Diaz, Aurea Calica, Rainier Allan Ronda, Sheila Crisostomo, Helen Flores, Mike Frialde

Noynoy: Palace impounding my 'pork'

Noynoy: Palace impounding my ‘pork’
By Jess Diaz
The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines – Sen. Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III said yesterday Malacañang has been impounding his P200-million annual pork barrel fund allocation since he was elected to the Senate in 2007.

“My last was in 2005, which was a SARO (Special Allotment Release Order) for hospitals. None afterwards. Mar (Roxas), I understand, is also not getting any,” he said when asked if he and Roxas received their annual pork barrel allocations.

Aquino, Liberal Party’s presidential candidate, was still a Tarlac congressman in 2005. Senate colleague Mar Roxas is his running mate.

Reached for comment, Sen. Francis Escudero said he, too, is not receiving his allocation, while Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano said most of his funds are withheld by Malacañang.

Two other senators – Panfilo Lacson and Jamby Madrigal – have not been availing themselves of their P200 million in annual pork barrel funds. They deducted their combined P400 million from this year’s P1.5-trillion national budget.

President Arroyo has been releasing funds to her allies in both the Senate and the House of Representatives to boost their election campaign. The releases include the regular pork barrel allocations and congressional initiatives or budgetary insertions.

Unlike Aquino, his Nacionalista Party rival, Sen. Manuel Villar, has apparently been receiving his funds and had in fact been able to make insertions in the budget.

Last year, he got into trouble for his “double insertion” of a P200-million appropriation for the controversial C-5 road extension that a subsequent Senate investigation found to be traversing some subdivisions owned by his companies.

The controversy cost Villar the Senate presidency. His successor, Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile, who was finance committee chairman, revealed that Villar had asked for the P200-million insertion.

Aquino’s revelation that he has not been receiving his funds belies the statement of Budget Secretary Joaquin Lagonera that there are no political considerations in the release of pork barrel funds.

Lagonera made the statement after at least two congressmen – former Speaker Jose de Venecia of Pangasinan and Rufus Rodriguez of Cagayan de Oro City – complained that Malacañang had impounded the money allotted for their districts.

“I have been following up the release of our funds, but Secretary Lagonera and Palace liaison officer Undersecretary Bernie Sayo have been giving me the runaround. Lagonera would not even talk to me. They don’t like my face because I belong to the opposition,” Rodriguez said.

“Obviously, Mrs. Arroyo chooses to play politics with the welfare of our people even while she is about to leave office” he said.

Rodriguez, a neophyte congressman, is a member of former President Joseph Estrada’s Pwersa ng Masang Pilipino.

In the wake of Aquino’s revelation and the congressmen’s complaints of discrimination, Liberal Party senatorial candidate Ralph Recto urged Malacañang not to “color-code” fund releases.

“The Palace cannot subject one group to pork abstinence while ordering a pork feast for its friends. Nowhere in the budget law does it state that pork distribution be color-coded, that servings for the Greens, Orange, Yellows, and Reds vary in size” he said.

By Green, Orange, Yellow, and Red, Recto, a former senator, was obviously referring to Gilberto Teodoro Jr. of Lakas-Kampi, Villar, Aquino, and former President Estrada.

He said if pork barrel funds were equally distributed, they would “not become a handicapping tool that will provide electoral stimulus to only a few.”

At the same time, Recto urged Mrs. Arroyo to “obey her own rule” in dispensing funds, which is “that the release of congressional insertions be contingent on the availability of revenues.”

He said there is no justification for the reported release of insertions since the government has just posted a P110- billion budget deficit for the first quarter.

He said if so-called congressional initiatives are funded through borrowings and not tax collections, that would bloat the deficit from P293 billion to P358 billion, should the full P65 billion in insertions be released.

Before approving the 2010 budget, senators and congressmen diverted P65 billion in debt payment funds to their pork barrel.

According to a member of the House appropriations committee, one-third of that huge amount or P21.6 billion is allocated for senators and P43.4 billion for congressmen.

“This means that if all insertions are released, the 23 senators will have an average of more than P1 billion each in pork this year, including the annual regular allocation of P200 million. That is an unprecedented amount of pork,” the lawmaker said.

CBCP: Clergy may join revolt

CBCP: Clergy may join revolt
By Evelyn Macairan
The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines – A ranking official of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) said yesterday some members of the clergy are planning to join another popular revolt in the event of a failure of elections.

Caloocan Bishop Deogracias Iniguez, CBCP Public Affairs Committee chairman, said a failure of elections where no president is proclaimed would force people to take to the streets.

“This (event) is one of those instances when the people would need guidance (from us),” Iniguez said.

Iniguez clarified that it is up to each member of the CBCP to decide whether to join such protest actions.

Iniguez said the statements made by Malacañang officials in playing up the scenario of a military takeover in the event of scuttled elections are not helping President Arroyo.

Iniguez appealed to the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to exert all effort to ensure that the elections on May 10 would be clean and peaceful.

Comelec Chairman Jose Melo called on critics to stop discussing a scenario that he said will never happen.

“Let us not talk about failure of elections. There will be elections nationwide,” Melo said.

Melo noted that talk of a failure of elections snowballed following the pronouncement of deputy presidential spokesperson Charito Planas, who played up the possibility of a military junta taking over the government if elections fall through.

Melo said the declaration of failure of elections occurs only in isolated cases, such as in areas where violence prevents the people from casting their votes.

“Failure of elections happens for reasons that cannot be controlled like when there is violence and the people opted not to go out and vote,” Melo explained.

Melo said such a scenario occurring on a nationwide scale was highly improbable because the elections on May 10 would be fully automated.

Commissioner Rene Sarmiento earlier advised the public to simply go out and vote on May 10 to defeat the possibility of a failure of elections.

“Even if the all precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines did not work on Election Day – which is impossible – elections will still occur if the voters showed up and voted… these ballots can still be appreciated and counted manually, just like in the past elections,” Sarmiento explained.

Under the Omnibus Election Code, the Comelec can only declare a failure of elections if the voters are not able to cast their votes due to forces beyond their control like earthquake, tsunami, terrorist attack or other violent incidents.

Self-defeating attitude

Administration presidential candidate Gilberto Teodoro, for his part, said talk of a failure of elections are pure speculation and pessimism.

“For me, I would speculate that we should focus on who wins in (the) elections. We must win in the elections and when we speculate on no proclamation, that is very, very self defeating,” he said.

Teodoro made the remark in reaction to his cousin, Sen. Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino, warning of another people power revolt in the event of a failure of elections.

“It’s now incumbent on the Comelec to ensure that there would be credible, honest and acceptable elections,” the former Defense chief said.

Teodoro said talking about the possibility of a failure of elections at this point is short of admitting losing the presidential elections.

Lakas-Kampi-CMD senatorial candidate Rey Langit urged candidates to stop floating the idea of another people power revolution, saying this was a mere hypothetical issue, doing more harm than good to the country.

Langit said the ordinary people would suffer the brunt of ensuing political and economic instability, proven by the two EDSA revolts and several failed coup attempts.

Another senatorial candidate, Hector Tarrazona, also sees another popular revolt in the event of a failure of elections.

Tarrazona, of Ang Kapatiran party, said he saw what he called a “striking similarity” of the events that led to the two popular revolts that unseated two sitting presidents in 1986 and 2001.

Tarrazona, a retired Air Force colonel, pointed out the appointments of favorite military and police officials to key posts had destroyed professionalism in the ranks that led to the ouster of the late strongman Ferdinand Marcos in 1986.

He claimed a growing demoralization among key officials in the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police who were bypassed in the appointments.

Tarrazona likened the scenario in 1986 to the current situation, warning that if President Arroyo would push through on her alleged plans to stay beyond her term on June 30, a popular revolt would result, and this time, it might not be peaceful.

“My feeling is that it could be bloody if President Arroyo (pushes) herself,” he said.

Caretaker president

Talks on the possible failure of elections and no proclamation of a new president prompted several lawmakers to propose a measure on succession.

Sen. Rodolfo Biazon had proposed a caretaker president, citing the widespread apprehensions that the elections might fail due to the still unsolved power shortage problem in Mindanao and possible glitches in the automated balloting process.

Biazon also noted the fact that the terms of office of all three constitutional successors – Vice President Noli de Castro, Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile and Speaker Prospero Nograles – are expiring at noon on June 30, along with that of President Arroyo.

In the event of an election failure and none of the three can assume the presidency even temporarily, it is feared that Mrs. Arroyo might hold on to power with the support of the military and the Supreme Court.

But other lawmakers led by Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez said the proposal for Congress to choose a caretaker president in case there is a failure of elections on May 10 will run afoul of the Constitution.

“There is no such thing in the Constitution. A caretaker president is not among the three constitutional successors to the presidency,” he said.

Rodriguez said there is no need for a caretaker president as Biazon proposes, as incumbent senators can actually ensure the line of succession is not broken.

Rodriguez suggested that once it is clear after May 10 that there would be problems in determining the winning presidential and vice presidential candidates, senators could elect a replacement for Enrile.

“The replacement should come from the 12 whose terms of office will expire in 2013 so that at noon on June 30, he can take over from Mrs. Arroyo as acting president until the president-elect or vice president-elect is proclaimed,” Rodriguez said.

Rodriguez said this is in accordance with Article VII (Executive Department) Section 7 of the Constitution, which reads:

“Where no President and Vice President shall have been chosen or shall have qualified, or where both shall have died or become permanently disabled, the President of the Senate, or in case of his inability, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, shall act as President until a President or Vice President shall have been chosen and qualified.”

“It is clear from this provision that incumbent senators hold the key to preventing an extended term for GMA or a military takeover in case elections fail,” Rodriguez stressed.

He said senators could elect their new leader on May 31, when Congress resumes session principally to canvass the votes for president and vice president.

“By then, it should be clear if there would be problems in proclaiming the winning presidential and vice presidential candidates,” Rodriguez said.

Enrile, who is seeking reelection, has expressed willingness to relinquish his post “at the proper time.”

Enrile said he himself would initiate the selection of his replacement if there were a failure of elections on May 10. –With Jess Diaz, Jaime Laude, Mayen Jaymalin, Perseus Echeminada

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

GMA has enough powers to deal with crisis – Gibo

GMA has enough powers to deal with crisis – Gibo
By Paolo Romero
The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines – Administration presidential candidate Gilbert Teodoro Jr. said President Arroyo has enough powers to deal with the unfolding energy crisis, which has sparked rotating blackouts in many parts of the country including Metro Manila.

Teodoro told The STAR editors and reporters that Mrs. Arroyo should act now to prevent the crisis from worsening and that she should consider allowing the immediate importation of power barges as a stopgap measure.

“I think whatever emergency powers the President has should be exercised because it’s there already,” Teodoro said.

“But we must also have a clear roadmap of what to do in the short-term, medium-term and the long-term. What’s the use of these powers and solutions if we don’t know where we’re going?” he said.

“One way (to address the crisis) is to allow the hassle-free entry of power barges. That’s the fastest way,” he said.

But a downside to such importation, he admitted, is bigger consumption of bunker oil.

Teodoro said Mrs. Arroyo should also call for an emergency meeting with leaders of Congress, officials and representatives from the energy sector, and even leaders of the opposition and other stakeholders.

He also urged Mrs. Arroyo to immediately call an emergency session of Congress to allow both chambers to pass a joint resolution on enhancing the country’s generating capacity.

Teodoro was referring to Section 71 of the Electric Power Industry Reform Act 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.”

“But in the meantime, let us discover first what can she immediately do under existing law. For example, she may suspend duties on certain badly needed items under the Tariff and Customs Code,” Teodoro said.

“Everything must be clear: what are the powers to be exercised, what are the steps to be taken, etc. so that time and resources are not wasted,” he said.

He said the crisis is likely to be over at the onset of the rainy season.

For a long-term solution, Teodoro said the government should consider nuclear power, it being cheaper and much safer with the present technological advancements.

He noted that developed countries like Japan and South Korea rely on nuclear power. He stressed, however, that he is against activating the mothballed Bataan Nuclear Power Plant.

It was opposition Rep. Rufus Rodriguez of Cagayan de Oro who first broached the idea of giving Mrs. Arroyo emergency powers in dealing with the power shortage in Mindanao where the effects of the El Niño phenomenon have stymied the operation of hydroelectric plants, the dominant power generators in the island.

Energy Secretary Angelo Reyes has also issued the same call and a Palace spokesman said she is ready to give his proposal “utmost consideration.”

“Let’s give the President enough time to make her way through this minefield, not only the legitimate issues for her to consider but also the innuendos being raised by overheated campaign rhetoric,” deputy presidential spokesman Gary Olivar said.

Special session

At the House of Representatives, the energy committee chaired by presidential son Pampanga Rep. Mikey Arroyo approved a resolution calling for a special joint session of Congress to discuss the proposed granting of emergency powers to the President.

But Rep. Arroyo is not keen on granting his mother additional powers. “At this point in time, I believe additional powers for the President are not yet necessary,” he said during the committee’s hearing yesterday.

“We need to sit down, the House and the Senate. Let me remind my colleagues in the Senate, even those presidentiables, if they are saying that they are leading in the surveys, then magtrabaho na tayo (let’s work) and let us address this issue,” Arroyo said.

“We are here to serve the people. Let’s not use the elections as excuse to skip a special session,” he said.

Arroyo said granting his mother special powers should be a “last resort.”

“Energy Secretary Reyes admitted there was a problem but he also presented solutions. If the private sector could deliver on their commitments, we will have no problem,” the congressman said.

“But in the event the solutions are not enough, and (there is a) need to grant the President additional powers, transparency should be guaranteed,” he added.

But Rodriguez said people affected by the debilitating blackouts should not be made to wait for long. “We are experiencing four- to 12-hour brownouts in Mindanao. We cannot wait. The matter isn’t whether it is doable or not. We have to do it. We in Mindanao could not delay this,” Rodriguez insisted.

He said parameters should be set to keep the President from abusing emergency powers.

“We are in an election period so we have to see to it that funds to be used for generating additional power capacity would not be re-channeled to campaign funds,” Rodriguez stressed.

Speaker Prospero Nograles, on the other hand, is not keen on calling a special session.

“No need for special session. Energy laws have enough powers to address crisis and act swiftly,” he said.

Special powers backed

Deputy Speaker for Mindanao Simeon Datumanong appealed to government critics to set aside politics and help address the problem.

“I urge the government to adopt measures to address the power problem in Mindanao which is very critical now. Let us now grant the President emergency powers to quickly solve the crisis,” Datumanong said.

Agusan del Norte Rep. Jose Aquino II, spokesman of Lakas-Kampi-CMD, said the power crisis in Mindanao is more urgent and important than the forthcoming elections in May.

“The people in Mindanao are more concerned about their plight as more and more people in the province are being affected by the power problem,” Aquino said.

“Instead of agitating the public with their baseless scenarios, critics should join us in pushing for the granting of emergency powers to the President so that the power problem in Mindanao will be immediately solved,” Aquino said.

Zamboanga del Sur Rep. Antonio Cerilles, chairman of the special committee on land use, also voiced support for special powers for Mrs. Arroyo.

“It is easy for the critics of the government to oppose the emergency power because they are not affected by it right now,” Cerilles said.

“Any presidentiable who is against the emergency power of the President is biased against Mindanao or anti-Mindanao.”

Worse scenario

Senators Francis Escudero and Manuel Roxas II said giving President Arroyo emergency powers might again result in expensive power purchase agreements.

“Extended dry season and water shortage are not alien in this tropical country, why did the Department of Energy under the helm of Secretary Reyes allow this to swell into the problem that it is today? That is why the DOE is there, to make sure that we do not fall again into the pit we were in 10 years ago,” Escudero said.

“An effective and competent government should have been by now equipped with a comprehensive energy plan or road map at the very least to avoid going to the extreme, which is always a burden that ordinary people suffer,” Escudero said.

Roxas said Reyes’ proposal should not be taken seriously because emergency powers for Mrs. Arroyo is not the solution.

“What you need is rain. Even if you give the President emergency powers, what can she do to make rain? For me, the emergency powers for Mindanao (energy crisis) are ridiculous,” Roxas said.

He said the government might not have other choices but to acquire power barges as a short-term response to the problem.

He said new coal-fired power plants could ease the problem in the medium- and long-term.

“The problem is it will take five to seven years to build such kind of plant. So, between now and five years from now, we can only have stopgap measures,” Roxas said.

Former Senate president Franklin Drilon also voiced opposition to special powers for Mrs. Arroyo.

“There are rules in bidding which allow emergency purchase (of standby power). The government can purchase without the need for presidential emergency powers,” Drilon told the weekly Kapihan sa Manila Hotel media forum.

“We can address this by utilizing existing rules which shorten the bidding process but still with public bidding,” Drilon explained.

Metro blackouts

Meanwhile, two-hour rotating blackouts hit most parts of Metro Manila and nearby provinces yesterday due to the unexpected shutdown of two Luzon-based power plants, the National Grid Corp. of the Philippines (NGCP) said.

The manual load shedding or two-hour rotating blackouts started within the franchise area of the Manila Electric Co. at 10 a.m.

“Demand is less after past 10 p.m. so no more rotating blackout after this time and we will just resume the next day,” NGCP said.

NGCP said the two-hour power interruption was a result of the shutdown of Unit 1 of Sual due to a boiler tube leak. The 647-megawatt Sual is run by Team Energy Philippines in partnership with Tokyo Electric.

Another power plant which suffered from the same technical problem, NGCP said, was Masinloc Unit 1 with 315 MW. Masinloc is managed by US-based AES Corp.

The NGCP said the entire Philippines had power deficiency yesterday.

The Luzon grid for instance, as of March 1, had peak demand of 6,655 MW as against the 6,177 MW available capacity, or a generation deficiency of 170 MW. With Delon Porcalla, Donnabelle Gatdula, Aurea Calica, Helen Flores, Marvin Sy, Christina Mendez

Reyes pushes Arroyo emergency powers, cites crisis of power in South

Reyes pushes Arroyo emergency powers, cites crisis of power in South
By Amy R. Remo, Christine Avendaño
Philippine Daily Inquirer

MANILA, Philippines—Energy Secretary Angelo T. Reyes has asked President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to declare a power crisis in Mindanao so the government can use “emergency powers” to address the island’s worsening supply shortage, which has led to brownouts of up to 24 hours.

Reyes said declaring a power crisis would allow the government to invoke Section 71 of the Electric Power Industry Reform Act (EPIRA) and enable state-run National Power Corp. (Napocor) to buy or lease modular generation sets to augment the power supply in Mindanao.

The generator sets can be made available in one month, but these will be “very expensive sources of power,” Reyes said.

Ms Arroyo’s deputy spokesperson, Gary Olivar, said the President would give “utmost consideration” to the recommendation of Reyes.

“Mindanao is the region with the biggest power deficit, rotating brownouts … and the most dependent on hydroelectric power sources now hit by El Niño,” Olivar said in a statement.

A prolonged dry spell has reduced the generating capacity of the island’s hydroelectric power plants by 80 percent from 982 megawatts (MW) to just 215 MW, according to National Grid Corp. of the Philippines (NGCP).

Hydroelectric plants (whose turbines are powered by running water) used to supply 53 percent of Mindanao’s power needs.

Seven-hour outage

NGCP president Walter W. Brown said the supply shortfall on Saturday resulted in outages of about one hour in Davao City, two hours in Iligan City, four to five hours in Cagayan de Oro and General Santos cities, and seven hours in Zamboanga City.

Parts of Davao Oriental had no power for 24 hours during the weekend.

Reyes said the generating capacity of the Agus and Pulangui hydropower plants had been reduced by 80 percent and 90 percent, respectively, due to very little water inflow into the reservoir.

The 35-MW Iligan diesel power plant remained unavailable, he added.

Water crisis

Olivar said Ms Arroyo would also likely look at the proposal of Senate Majority Leader Miguel Zubiri for the signing of a Senate and House measure seeking to expand and develop water districts.

“That’s a suggestion that is worth considering and the President will look at it, together with other suggestions that have reached her to address the power and water crises,” Olivar said in another interview with dzRB radio.

Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel Jr. said he was “uneasy” with the idea of Ms Arroyo resorting to emergency powers.

“I am not comfortable with the thought of using emergency powers if it will not be exercised—let us say by Napocor—without strict guidelines from Congress,” Pimentel said in a phone interview.

Anyway, he said it would be too late for Congress to take this up because “everyone is deep in campaigning.”

Pimentel instead proposed that the government mobilize power barges to resolve the power crisis in Mindanao.

Pampanga Rep. Juan Miguel “Mikey” Arroyo, chair of the House energy committee and son of the President, called for a hearing on Monday to discuss the power situation in Mindanao.

He earlier scoffed at suggestions that his mother be given emergency powers to address the energy crisis on the island.

Automated elections

Fearing that the severe power shortage would endanger the conduct of automated elections there, Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez proposed two weeks ago that Ms Arroyo be given emergency powers.

Brown reported that the system demand in the Mindanao grid was expected to reach 1,221 MW within the week, while the gross power reserve would continue to post deficits.

“In Luzon, power supply will continue to be normal and will further improve after the expected completion of the preventive maintenance of the Malampaya natural gas facilities on March 5,” Reyes said in a statement.

He said the Visayas grid would not encounter supply problems starting March “barring force majeure occurrences and other unforeseen developments such as fuel supply constraints and, the effects of the El Niño phenomenon.”

Reyes said at a previous briefing that the government had begun implementing measures to ensure that Mindanao gets adequate power reserves in time for the general elections on May 10.