Is Philippines ‘a great Catholic nation’ as Pope says?
GOTCHA - Jarius Bondoc (The Philippine Star) - December 5, 2018 - 12:00am

One wonders if Pope Francis is being told the painful truths about the Catholic Church in the Philippines. He called it one of the greatest Catholic nations, in dispatching Osaka cardinal Thomas Manyo Maeda to the Manila Cathedral’s 60th anniversary fete. “Indeed, the noble Church in the Philippines now stands among the great Catholic nations in the entire world,” the Pontiff wrote. “Hence, she continuously sends missionaries to other regions.”

Has the Pope been told that in this country of 80% Catholics, 40% of the population are poor and 15% are hungry? Extended families of 15 to 20 members cram into one-room shanties that typhoons easily blow down and wash away. Famished street children rummage garbage bins for leftover food. The rich go to the most expensive Catholic schools, are taught management, philosophy, and the arts and emerge to be political dynasts to perpetuate the economic exploitation. Catholics crowd churches in public displays of piousness, yet do not share their wealth and talent to uplift the wretched, except perhaps at Christmastime. Bishops cannot speak with one voice against such selfishness and abuses. They elect officers for readiness to capitulate. In the face of attacks against creed, they are content to meekly call for prayers for the assaulters. Except for a handful, they do not boldly catechize the faithful.

Those are not signs of greatness but of failures of the Catholic Church. 

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Conflicting media claims notwithstanding, Iloilo City’s electricity users experience what’s going on.

PECO (Panay Electric Co.), power distributor for 95 years now, says it charges among the country’s lowest rates to its 65,000 customers. It banners a track record of: 1st in reliability in Panay Island, 12th among distribution utilities (DUs), and 20th nationwide. It is Iloilo City’s second highest taxpayer for the past decade, one of only five out of 140 (DUs) nationwide adjudged by the Distribution Management Committee as 100-percent compliant, and commended in 2014 by the Dept. of Energy. The Cacho family that controls PECO has hurdled disasters, including a world war, and government requests to expand its coverage.

PECO’s challenger MORE (Monte Oro Power) contradicts all that. Comparing electric rates in other key cities, it says PECO’s are steep. In Metro Manila as of Sept. it was P10.2190 per kilowatt-hour; Davao City, P10.1228; General Santos, P10.0416; Tacloban, P7.3421; Cebu, P11.0867; Bacolod, P11.8574 -- but in Iloilo City, P12.0917. PECO’s distribution charge also is higher by P2.50 per kWh, MORE contends, because it buys power from only three generators, two coal- and one diesel-fired. PECO maintains a contract with the diesel plant although it has not drawn electricity from it, MORE claims. PECO does not get from the wholesale electricity spot market, or WESM, even when rates seasonally are low.

PECO’s rates look low compared to most other DUs only because it has no capital expenditures to improve services, MORE alleges. Citing city councilors and NGOs, it says this has led to deteriorated, inapt facilities, power drops and blackouts, leaning poles, unsafe clearances of lines, and overbillings. Authorities have ordered it to refund P631 million in excess charges, and 1,800 complaints still pend. Being only 20th among DUs nationwide is bad, MORE says; it should be among the top five, considering its denser population coverage. Systems loss was 9.93 percent in 2017, purportedly the country’s highest. Supposedly the Cachos paid themselves about P100 million dividends per year in 2015-2017 instead of upgrading PECO.

PECO in 2017 applied for 25-year extension of its franchise, which is to expire this Jan. When the House of Reps instead approved MORE’s franchise application filed only three months ago, PECO cried foul. It alleged political hocus-pocus, as MORE’s major owner, port and casino magnate Ricky Razon, is backed by the 20-congressman Nationalist Union. PECO’s two-year-long filing was heard only twice, whereas MORE’s was tackled thrice in three months, with one of those devoted to criticizing the uninvited PECO reps. That’s why it was unable to state that its present rate is only P11.64 per kWh, inclusive of distribution charge of P1.75, both lower than most of Visayas and Luzon. Before that it was only P10.50-P10.90 for two years, but went up, as with all DUs, because of recent fuel price spikes. As well, of the supposed 1,800 pending bad-service complaints, authorities validated only 194, or 0.003 percent of 65,000 customers.

PECO further alleged that MORE’s president admitted to the firm’s having no experience in power and no facilities in Iloilo City. The Senate, however, also granted MORE’s franchise bid, and gave PECO time to turn over its facilities. There should be no service disruption, the Dept. of Energy butted in. If PECO resists the turnover, the government would take over and hand it to MORE. PECO denounced this as “business grabbing” by Razon. Other franchises in power and other industries are now in danger, PECO warned, since Congress whimsically can dump a franchisee for a favored upstart. No franchisee would invest big money in such a regime. At that point, Razon stepped forward to discuss his plans.

PECO has become a rent-seeker, Razon says. The man who operates ports in the Americas, Europe, Middle East, Africa, and the Philippines is in sum asking customers to trust him. His company MORE wouldn’t have applied for a franchise had not PECO bungled it, Razon says. Now he’s coming in with P700 million fresh capital, although his Singapore consultants calculate only P500 million, to modernize Iloilo City’s electricity. Objectives are to reduce systems loss to below the government cap of 6.5 percent, stabilize supply and voltage, increase substation capacity, correct the unsafe connections, repair faulty transformers, and install fault indicators. By sourcing power from cheaper sources and streamlining operations, MORE also would bring down electricity rates.

*      *      *

A free Christmas concert by the Philippines’ best, only this Saturday, Dec. 8, at the UP-Diliman Oblation Ampitheater:

The Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra, under Maestro Hermenigildo Ranera of the Cultural Center of the Philippines, teams up with the UP College of Music for “Pamaskong Handog.”

Orchestral gems, Christmas carols and excerpts from Handel’s “Messiah” by a 130-voice choir of the combined UP Concert Chorus, UP Singing Ambassadors, UP Cherubim and Seraphim, UP Staff Chorale, and UP Chorus Classes.

Mezzo-soprano Prof. Jai Sabas-Aracama to perform chorus and solo.

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Catch Sapol radio show, Saturdays, 8-10 a.m., DWIZ (882-AM).

Gotcha archives on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Jarius-Bondoc/1376602159218459, or The STAR website http://www.philstar.com/author/Jarius%20Bondoc/GOTCHA

CATHOLIC CHURCH IN THE PHILIPPINES POPE FRANCIS THOMAS MANYO MAEDA
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