Palace: Petilla stays

Delon Porcalla, Aurea Calica (The Philippine Star) - December 27, 2013 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - For his “excellent performance” in restoring electricity in many areas in the Visayas devastated by Super Typhoon Yolanda, Energy Secretary Jericho Petilla may keep his job and forget about his promise to quit just because of an unfinished task, Malacañang announced yesterday.

Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said Petilla, a former Leyte governor, should be lauded for being able to achieve in “roughly 40 days” what he had originally targeted to accomplish in six months.

“By any measure this is excellent performance. The President noted that foreign observers who have seen work being done in the Visayas, and in comparison to disasters of lesser magnitude in other countries, pointed out that repair and rehabilitation of energy infrastructure was done faster,” Lacierda said in a statement.

“For all these reasons, the President, in rejecting Secretary Petilla’s offer to resign, reiterated that he has no intention of losing the services of an honorable public servant,” he said.

Petilla’s achievement came, Lacierda said, even if “the Luzon-Visayas connection was down, the major geothermal plant in Leyte was also down; and generation, transmission and distribution lines were down.”

Only three of the 320 affected municipalities in the Visayas are still without electricity.

Earlier yesterday, Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. of the Presidential Communications Operations Office said Aquino had shown no hint of dissatisfaction over Petilla’s failure to fully restore electricity in Yolanda-ravaged areas.

Coloma was referring to the outcome of a meeting between the President and the energy chief.

“I think the transcript of what the President said, or what transpired during that meeting, did not contain anything derogatory to the energy secretary, in terms of his efforts to restore electric power in the calamity areas,” he said.

Coloma said it was “understandable” for Petilla to put his job on the line by promising to restore power by Christmas Eve in Leyte, being a former governor of the province.

Yolanda toppled some 250 transmission lines in the Visayas region.

He also said there is no reason for Cabinet members to file courtesy resignations as President Aquino’s official family is “relatively stable.” 

“The President is the final arbiter of who works with him in the Cabinet and, of course, every member of that Cabinet serves at his pleasure and subject to his full trust and confidence,” Coloma said.

“Over the past three and a half years, we have seen few movements in the Cabinet and we have not seen any situation where there would be significant, meaning two or three or more would… be resigning or would be replaced at the same time,” he said.

Coloma said that going by events of the past three and a half years, there had been no occasion that would have compelled Cabinet members to tender courtesy resignations all at the same time.

Asked whether Petilla was exaggerating or showing delicadeza with his offer to resign, Coloma said the energy chief had always been professional and a straight talker.

Coloma emphasized that ensuring accountability among public officials is in keeping with the administration’s commitment to good governance and the tuwid na daan or straight path.

“And I think on this matter, Secretary Petilla is making his personal statement on his interpretation of the concept of accountability,” Coloma said, adding that Cabinet officials after all are bound by performance contract for good governance.

“We are all bound to abide by our performance contracts,” Coloma said.

Extend deadline

Rep. Antonio Tinio of party-list group Alliance of Concerned Teachers also said there is no need for Petilla to resign.

“Instead of resigning, Sec. Petilla should renew his pledge and set a new target date for re-energizing the typhoon-devastated areas, this time down to the sitio level,” Tinio said.

“Furthermore, he must pursue to the end the DOE investigation into the price manipulation among private power producers and collusion with Meralco that led to the unprecedented power rate hike. There should be no whitewashing or backtracking there,” he said.

As a complementary measure, he said Petilla should implement major revisions in the Wholesale Electricity Spot Market “in order to curb the predatory behavior of private power providers.”

Collusion among power firms is suspected to have pushed generation costs up sharply and compelled the Manila Electric Co. to seek a power rate hike of more than P4 per kilowatt-hour.

The Supreme Court later issued a 60-day temporary restraining order on Meralco’s rate hike bid.

“If there’s anyone who should resign pronto, it is Energy Regulatory Commission chair Zenaida Ducut,” Tinio said.

Ducut is facing a graft case before the Office of the Ombudsman for her alleged role in the pork barrel scam.

Pork barrel scam whistle-blower Benhur Luy earlier claimed the former Pampanga congresswoman had also acted as an agent of detained suspected scam brains Janet Lim-Napoles.  

For labor groups, however, Petilla’s resignation offer should serve as signal for “inept” officials to quit their jobs.

Nagkaisa, a coalition of various labor groups, said ERC’s Ducut and Philippine Electricity Market Corp. (PEMC) head Mel Ocampo should take a cue from Petilla and step down from their posts.

“Ducut and Ocampo who are in the frontline and supposed to be the first persons to detect market failure and protect consumers’ welfare stood idle before the coming tsunami of power hikes. They therefore should go,” the group said in a statement.

They said both officials must also be investigated and charged with economic sabotage for allowing power rates to soar.

“The latest fiasco is just the culmination of years of ineptitude and incompetence,” the group said, referring to Meralco’s plan to collect P4.15 more per kilowatt-hour from consumers.

Meralco earlier said it needed to raise rates due to higher generation costs triggered by the scheduled maintenance shutdown of the Malampaya natural gas plant and the “forced shutdown” of other power plants.

But Nagkaisa said Ducut and Ocampo were aware of scheduled maintenance shutdown but did nothing to prevent the cost of power from rising sharply.

“In the process they unduly enriched independent power producers to the tune of P10 billion for a month’s worth of power outages,” the group’s statement read.

Message clear

For Petilla, the message from the President was clear when the latter did not even bother to read his resignation letter.

“Take it home,” Petilla quoted Aquino as saying in Filipino, when he presented his letter of resignation.

“He ignored me when I asked him what I would do with the letter,” Petilla said in a press conference.

“Not now, we still have many problems,” Petilla quoted Aquino as telling him when he was about to hand him the resignation letter.

“It was an honest resignation. I was willing to let go and I was already planning what I would do in the private sector, but I have mixed feelings because there’s a lot of work to do and at the same time, I was looking forward to a vacation,” Petilla said.

“In a sense the President rejected it (but) it was a resignation because I’m just keeping true to my word,” he said.

Petilla thanked Aquino for the continued trust and confidence.

“I guess it’s a basic requirement (trust and confidence) without which you really cannot serve the president. That shows there is still work to do,” Petilla said.

He also said he didn’t want to abandon his work “in the middle of a fight.”

He also stressed it would be all right if President Aquino had accepted his resignation.

“When I commit, I commit and I did commit that resignation,” he said. – With Jess Diaz, Mayen Jaymalin, Iris Gonzales

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