A legacy of darkness

COMMONSENSE - Marichu A. Villanueva1 - The Philippine Star

Before he left last Friday for his official trips to Europe and the United States, President Benigno “Noy” Aquino III signed his first written and official endorsement of a proposed administration initiative to grant him emergency powers to address the feared electricity shortage during the summer season next year. The proposed measure has been drafted by Department of Energy (DOE) Secretary Jericho Petilla.

The DOE secretary has repeatedly warned about the projected shortfall of as much as 300 megawatts (MW) of power supply at the Luzon grid alone. The mix of available generating capacity from existing hydroelectric power plants in Luzon and even in the Mindanao region are susceptible to the effects of the long dry spell during summer months, aggravated by the El Niño phenomenon.

With not enough reserve power capacity, there is the likely incidence of power interruptions and worst, possible recurrence of long hours of blackout, Petilla pointed out. As of this writing, the Mindanao region — largely dependent on hydro-power plants — continues to suffer long hours of blackout.

The proposed emergency powers will be contained in a Joint Resolution of the Senate and the House of Representatives that the two chambers of the 16th Congress would approve separately. While Congress is dominated by the ruling pro-administration allies led by President Aquino’s Liberal Party (LP), support for the approval of the proposed measure has not been gaining traction despite dire warnings and procrastination about looming power supply crisis to occur anew in our country.

P-Noy’s late mother, former President Corazon Aquino ended her term in 1992 with the country reeling under severe power shortage crisis. It was the offshoot of her administration’s failure to provide replacement for the more than 600-MW of electricity foregone with the government’s decision to mothball the Bataan nuclear power plant (BNPP).

When her anointed successor, former President Fidel V. Ramos (FVR) took over the government, he immediately grappled with the power crisis problem. However, FVR was faced with the fact that it takes at least three years to put up a baseload power plant. Moreover, it takes a lot of money to build a power generating plant.

A leader gifted with long-term visions for the country, FVR convinced leaders of Congress, then headed by Senate president Edgardo Angara and ally House Speaker Jose de Venecia, to shepherd the grant of emergency powers to him. Although elected as President with minority support, FVR’s consultative style of leadership enabled him to gather legislators from all political parties, including the opposition, to back the grant of this special authority to fast-track the construction of new power plants.

For a limited period of one year, the Ramos administration was authorized to enter into negotiated contracts with builders of new power plants. And to entice investors, incentives were offered ranging from government sovereign guarantees on foreign loans contracted to put up a power generating plant; a take-for-pay provision that would allow power suppliers to pass on to consumers unused electricity costs; provision for power purchase adjustments to ensure profitability of power generators, among other incentives.

With such attractive incentives, local and foreign investors came into joint venture power generating projects. They later became called as independent power producers (IPPs). By the end of FVR’s term, our country had surplus power supply to fuel the projected economic growth.

Unfortunately, the Asian financial crisis in 1997 took its toll in the Philippines.

Although our country was taken out of darkness — literally and thankfully -— we all paid a dear price. There was no other option but to take the bitter pill to enjoy uninterrupted electricity.

What made it worse was the passage into law of the Electric Power Industry Reform Act (EPIRA) in 2001. The IPPs, through their legislators, were able to insert a provision to protect their investments from undue competition. A seeming harmless provision tied the hands of the government from putting up new power plants.

With former state-run power plants privatized under EPIRA, no new baseload plants were built. So, no additional capacity was put up.

From then on, we have to pay for more expensive electricity comparatively higher than our neighboring countries up to now.

Sadly, FVR’s solving the power crisis has become the convenient excuse for those who are now vehemently opposing the requested grant of emergency powers to P-Noy.

 After initially waffling on the recommendation of Petilla, P-Noy finally invoked Section 71 of the EPIRA which provided 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.”

 This early, Senate president Franklin Drilon admitted this certified urgent administration measure will not have easy sailing at the legislature. Drilon said this will go through the gauntlet among the senators. The Senate has less the three opposition senators who are currently in detention undergoing plunder trial at the Sandiganbayan.

Even among LP stalwarts like him, the Senate president expressed reluctance to the proposed grant to P-Noy of emergency powers to address the projected power supply shortage. Drilon cited the report of the Joint Congressional Power Commission (JCPC) about actual surplus capacity from existing generating plants like Ilijan power plant that are underutilized.

The JCPC is a bicameral oversight body of senators and congressmen that review the implementation of EPIRA. It is co-headed by Sen.Sergio Osmeña III and Oriental Mindoro Rep. Reynaldo Umali who are the respective chairmen of the Senate and House committees on energy.

Speaking of Osmeña, the Cebuano senator is most vocal in staunchly opposing to grant such emergency powers to what he described as “lousy managers” of the country’s energy sector. Osmeña has consistently attacked Petilla, including the President for what he believes is a case of mishandling the energy sector.

Incidentally, the senator’s vehement objection to the emergency powers has extended all the way to block the confirmation of Petilla as DOE secretary. A member of the Commission on Appointments, Osmeña has swayed the powerful bicameral body to bypass the appointment of Petilla. The former Leyte governor became DOE Secretary more than two years ago after P-Noy recruited him into the Cabinet.

Petilla earlier told the JCPC that the emergency powers resolution was just for “insurance” and may not be exercised at all if things turn out well. The DOE secretary must make up his mind and for once, be decisive.

With just two years left before P-Noy steps down from office, there is more likelihood this Aquino administration may leave a legacy of bringing us back to the dark days again.











  • Latest
  • Trending
Are you sure you want to log out?

Philstar.com is one of the most vibrant, opinionated, discerning communities of readers on cyberspace. With your meaningful insights, help shape the stories that can shape the country. Sign up now!

or sign in with