FIRST PERSON - Alex Magno (The Philippine Star) - February 5, 2015 - 12:00am

Silence is at times most articulate.

It turns out President Aquino asked to address SAF troopers after the funeral services at Camp Bagong Diwa for those massacred at Mamasapano. Since he lingered too long, attempting to mingle with the grieving families, the troopers were made to wait until the wee hours.

By the time Aquino stood before the sullen troopers, the commercial media had left. It was for Radio-TV Malacanang to dutifully record the event for posterity. Perhaps they should not have.

The video was released via You Tube. It showed Aquino trying hard to establish rapport with the grieving men of SAF. As he always does, the President began talking about himself.

To a man, the assembled troopers were all looking down. None wanted to cast his eye on the commander-in-chief. Since the eyes are the windows to the soul, they were probably afraid to reveal to their leader what they truly felt about him.

Aquino should have sensed that. He seems consistently incapable of doing that, however. He has, after all, this disturbing habit of shaking people’s hands without looking them in the eye. More than any public figure, he has perfected the art of avoiding eye contact.

Having failed to sense that, to read the body language of his captive audience, Aquino asked the assembled troops if they wanted to say anything to him. He was met with stony silence.

He repeated what soon sounded like an order to speak up, still unable to read the body language of warriors. The stony silence was only underscored.

Still unable to get it, he asked the troops to speak up for the third time. At this point the silence was deafening. The body language said everything that needed to be said and yet Aquino could not get it. The event ended in that awkward state, in that uncommunicative condition between commander and troop.

Review the video. Watch it over and over again. Soon it will become clear the leader is unloved by his troop. The silence is not a gesture of respect. It was a gesture of disdain.

If there is disdain, there can be no respect.

If there is no respect, no effective leadership could be exercised.

A bond was broken when the massacre happened. The warriors now feel they have been betrayed by their leader.

Aquino sent good men into harm’s way without doing all that had to be done at his level to ensure they would return safe from their mission. Everyone knows that intuitively, long before the eight or so fact-finding bodies even begin their job.

Coordination always happens at the highest level, not at the lowest. When Aquino disappeared from sight for over three days and reappeared only to disown responsibility, he lost the respect of fighting men.

Everything else that happened after merely sealed what was broken. He did not appear at the tarmac to welcome the dead back home for the pettiest of reasons not officially admitted. When he appeared before the SAF to throw more haze over the truth, the loss of respect has become irreparable.

Let us not use the euphemism “low morale.” When leaders lose the respect of their soldiers, everything is lost.


The brownouts widely expected could come sooner. The prelude to that is the thinning of power reserves.

When reserves are thin, there is upward pressure on prices in the wholesale electricity market. Before we are plunged in darkness, therefore, expect electricity bills to rise – as they will starting this month.

The numbers are ominous.

During the December 2014 supply month, a total of 2,200 MW were unavailable due to planned and forced outages. Much of this was due to the scheduled maintenance shutdowns especially for the large coal-fired plants.

Through the January 2015 supply month, the supply outage jumped to more than 3,000 MW, this time due to unscheduled power plant outages. On any other month, such a large loss of supply would have forced rotating brownouts. Fortunately, electricity demand is lowest in January, our coldest month.

Demand was particularly low this last January because of the extraordinary number of holidays, most notably those associated with the visit of Pope Francis to the country. A normal level of demand would have forced brownouts.

Our coal-fired plants are the cheapest sources of energy. They went on maintenance outages last December, forcing us to rely on more expensive power suppliers. This explains the upward pressure on electricity prices. Thus, while oil prices might be going down, electricity prices are likely to climb.

From late February though the hottest days of summer, electricity demand will spiral. Our full generation capacity will be called to market. The share of coal-fired plants in the total energy mix will decline. That can only mean power will be costlier.

It is the energy mix of the power suppliers and not anything on the part of the distributors (Meralco and the electricity cooperatives) that will determine the escalation in prices. The distribution utilities are merely the collecting agents for all the players in the complex power industry. This includes, by the way, Transco (the transmission utility) reported to be seeking an increase in charges.

 The basic condition we deal with in this bleak power situation is that, with thin reserves, we are vulnerable to any unplanned outage on the part of the energy suppliers. Any significant outage, whether from the large coal-fired plants or the smaller diesel plants, will cause shortages. Those shortages will force up prices owing to the operation of the law of supply and demand – likely to be exploited by the suppliers.

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