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P-Noy defends need for emergency powers

MANILA, Philippines - President Aquino defended yesterday his move to seek emergency powers from Congress to address an impending power shortage, saying he could not afford to take chances in the face of dwindling energy reserves and threats of El Niño.

“Right now, we’re pushing for just about every scheme to prevent blackouts. Our reason is, if there is indeed shortage in electricity, it’s best to have a ready source of power instead of just waiting for solutions to come when the problem strikes,” Aquino told a gathering of political allies in the ruling coalition at Malacañang.

“There is threat from El Niño, and this will surely affect the operations of plants dependent on water. If we don’t act now, there will be shortage of energy in Luzon during summer,” he told allies led by Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. and Senate President Franklin Drilon.

Belmonte, for his part, said whatever emergency powers Aquino gets would be clearly defined and limited to the duration of a crisis to prevent abuse.

Belmonte and Oriental Mindoro Rep. Reynaldo Umali, chairman of the House committee on energy, said they want Malacañang to explain clearly what kind of help it wants from Congress in averting a power crisis.

The Speaker said the chamber hopes a “clear explanation and concrete plans” will be forthcoming soon from Malacañang even as members of the Joint Congressional Power Commission (JCPC) met on Thursday – the second meeting this week – to discuss Aquino’s request for emergency powers.

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Also in the meeting aside from Umali were JCPC chairman Sen. Sergio Osmeña III, Energy Secretary Jericho Petilla and representatives from business groups, including the Federation of Philippine Industries and the Management Association of the Philippines.

The government estimates a shortfall of at least 300 megawatts this summer.

“We cannot afford a power crisis, that’s something we all agree on, we should protect our economy. But we must have clear definitions and parameters on (emergency powers)… as it is, there could be ways we can deal with it without resorting to emergency powers,” Umali, JCPC vice chair, said in a telephone interview.

DOE clueless

Isabela Rep. Rodito Albano, a member of the minority bloc, said the Department of Energy appeared to have no clear details on what it wants.

“The buck should not be passed to the President every time there is a crisis. Let the department go to Congress and ask for anything they want, whether they want to pass a law or a regulation,” Albano said.

Umali had earlier asked the government to utilize “the cheaper and quicker” source of power embedded in various industries to cover the shortfall. Some large firms and industries have their own generating plants that are idle most of the time.

He said energy officials estimate that only about 140 MW can be tapped from private sources but by his calculations – as supported by some business groups – the available power could range from 300 MW to as much as 800 MW, or more than enough to cover the shortfall.

The JCPC, with the help of the DOE and business groups, is reviewing the numbers to avoid “double counting” of generating capacities, he said.

He said tapping power from local private industries will cost the government only about P100 million to P200 million, which is much lower than the P14 billion taxpayers will shoulder to pay for power barges or generators Petilla insists the government should contract once Aquino gets his emergency powers.

He said the JCPC is trying to work out a scheme with the private industries to contribute power in exchange for reasonable compensation.

“Icot (Petilla) wants to contract power from the outside but we have enough embedded power,” Umali said, adding the energy chief is asking lawmakers to grant the emergency powers by the end of the month.

“I told him that (emergency powers within the month) could be wishful thinking because we still have the budget and the (proposed) Bangsamoro (Basic Law),” he said. The proposed P2.606-trillion national budget for 2015 is set for plenary deliberations next week.

Insurance

Umali said Petilla told the JCPC that the emergency powers resolution was just for “insurance” and may not be exercised at all if things turn out well.

He said the chamber would likely craft the resolution in such a way that the scope of authority would be well-defined by Congress, probably including certain ceilings on the power to be contracted to curb possible abuses.

“But of course, we will have to give the executive branch enough flexibility to deal with the situation,” he said.

Eastern Samar Rep. Ben Evardone, who earlier filed a resolution to grant Aquino emergency powers, said Congress should heed the President’s request.

“This contracting of additional capacity should be complemented by other measures that can be done even if Congress does not pass a joint resolution,” Evardone said.

Marikina Rep. Romero Quimbo, vice chairman of the House energy committee, said Aquino’s request for emergency powers is supported by Section 71 of the Electric Power Industry Reform Act (EPIRA).

“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,” Quimbo said, quoting a provision in the EPIRA law.

He stressed emergency powers must be limited in scope and duration.

“We must not allow it to last beyond the period during which the emergency exists and cannot reach into other areas that are not in any way connected to solving the emergency,” he said. “In short, it must be limited and temporary.”

Senators in favor

Senators also aired their support for Aquino’s request for emergency powers.

Senators JV Ejercito and Francis Escudero said that while they are in favor of granting emergency powers to the President, safeguards must be set in place so as to avoid what happened during the Ramos administration.

“I am willing to support granting of emergency powers to avert an energy crisis. We just have to put necessary safeguards to make sure that abuse of the emergency powers like the one during Ramos’ time will not happen,” Ejercito said.

In 1993, then President Fidel Ramos was given emergency powers by Congress to address the power crisis. He used such powers to tap the services of several independent power producers.

The IPPs were given several incentives, including a guarantee by the government that their output would be purchased even if demand was low.

“I am open to support it but will make sure that the mistakes and shortcomings of the emergency powers given to then President Ramos will be avoided and adequate safeguards put in place,” Escudero said.

Sen. Vicente Sotto III also aired his support for emergency powers for the president.

Caution

For militant party-list representatives, however, emergency powers for the President might entail  “sweetheart deals, corruption, take or pay and high electricity rates.”

Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares said these are among the anomalies that happened after Congress granted then President Ramos special powers to solve the energy crisis.

“The President asked for emergency powers just like Republic Act 7648 during Ramos’ time and the essence of this power is to ask Congress for authority to enter into negotiated contracts for additional generating capacity,” he said.

“But up till now, the Department of Energy (DOE) has not sufficiently laid out the reason for emergency powers because as their own data show, there is enough power supply,” he added.

Colmenares pointed out that based on DOE’s own figures, installed capacity for the Luzon grid is 12,790 MW while dependable capacity is 11,469 MW.

“The peak demand for the grid is just 8,700 MW, with Meralco using 6,121 MW. This means that there is excess electricity supply in Luzon,” he pointed out.

Anakpawis Rep. Fernando Hicap said that instead of granting Aquino emergency powers, Congress should repeal the EPIRA, “which caused the unreliability of power supply in the country and the high cost of electricity.”

He said because of EPIRA, the Philippines has become notorious for having one of the highest powers rates in the world.

“There was no single mention of a power crisis or power shortage in the government’s Philippine Energy Plan 2012-2030. Why the mad rush now for emergency powers?” he asked.

Rep. Antonio Tinio of Alliance of Concerned Teachers said a president who has been publicly criticized by the Supreme Court for acts that the tribunal deemed unconstitutional should not be trusted with emergency powers.

“Congress must find another way to solve the power crisis,” he said. With Paolo Romero, Marvin Sy, Jess Diaz

 

 

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