Drastic
FIRST PERSON - Alex Magno (The Philippine Star) - March 17, 2020 - 12:00am

On the advice of public health experts, our government put the entire metropolitan area under “community quarantine.” Many other cities and provinces nationwide have since followed suit.

As a result of “community quarantine”, movement in and out of the National Capital Region is now restricted. Flights have been suspended.

Other cities and provinces, from Ilocos Norte to Negros Oriental to Davao City have closed their borders to protect from the entry of infections. Curfews will likely be enforced in many localities. Malls are shutdown. Interaction is greatly curtailed.

I recall of no other previous emergency episode that so drastically altered the way we associate with other human beings. “Social distancing” is the operational code at this time. It is the best weapon in this great battle to defeat a pandemic.

Experts have calculated that if government does nothing, we could expect infections to rise to 75,000 over the next five weeks. That will certainly overwhelm our health system.

We are a nation of 109 million. They are served by a health system with only 89,000 hospital beds and only 1,000 ICU facilities. We cannot survive a greater magnitude of infections.

The restrictions associated with “community quarantine” measures are certainly painful. The economic costs will be great. The inconveniences are nearly unbearable. But these measures need to be enforced. The costs and the pain will be greater if they are not.

Should infections continue, the authorities could escalate containment measures. We could have a real lockdown, where everyone is confined to home. Although extreme, the lockdown measure proved very effective in Wuhan.

All the containment measures enforced throughout the world make a global recession nearly certain. Our own growth projections are certainly in jeopardy.

The US Fed has cut policy rates to nearly zero. There is debate over the wisdom of doing that. Cheap money will not help an economy on full stop – although they will make financial institutions unhealthy.

The latest manufacturing numbers from China indicate that this economy is now in pretty bad shape. From being the main engine of growth for the rest of the world, China could teeter on the brink of recession.

As expected, there has been some politicization of the emergency health measures now enforced. The usual dimwitted “yellow” suspects continued yapping at the sidelines, complaining about the “lack of clarity” of the instructions and the lack of equipment of the police manning checkpoints. But our troops have been rushed to the frontline overnight. No one is fully prepared for this emergency.

The more reassuring actions from civil society come from students raising funds to buy masks for health workers at the PGH and NGO’s sending hot meals to the medical personnel in hospitals forced to work around the clock. The culture of “social distancing” appears to have readily set in.

We have to act in solidarity to defeat the unseen enemy in this great battle.

Bantayan

There are shades here of the intense legal battle waged by the Panay Electric Corporation that had supplied Iloilo with power for nearly a century and More Power, that certainly had greater financial muscle to upgrade services in the area. More Power managed to win the franchise to distribute power in Iloilo City and environs.

There are also shades here of the strong resistance being put up by the Bacolod water district against takeover of the water distribution operations of a large corporation associated with the Villars. The large corporation has managed to acquire or buy into most of the country’s water districts.

The Bantayan Island Power Corporation (Bipcor) finds itself in a legal tussle with a giant power supplier, Vivant Energy Corporation. Vivant managed to win the power supply agreement (PSA) with Bantayan Electric Cooperative. That leaves Bipcor out in the cold.

Bipcor tried to block the PSA awarded Vivant by seeking a temporary restraining order (TRO) from the local trial court. On the deadline the court set for submission of position papers, the court suddenly ruled to deny the petition for a TRO. That seems to foreclose all judicial avenues for the petitioner Bipcor.

Understandably, Bipcor sees this as an injustice. They accuse the court and their competitor of railroading the appeals process. They nurse a conspiracy theory to favor their large corporate rival.

Under the terms of the 15-year PSA awarded last November, Vivant will set up a 23-megawatt diesel-fired generator to supply the energy needs of Banelco. The upgraded power project consists of two 7.5 MW bunker-fired units and three 2.8 MW units that will be built and ready by the time Bipcor’s contract expires next year.

The bidding process, Bipcor claims, did not allow the existing holder of the PSA for Bantayan Island enough time to complete its financial and technical offers. Bipcor lost to Vivant by default and the old power supplier believes this constitutes a failure of bidding. They are asking for another opportunity for a truly competitive bidding to happen.

Bipcor, in addition, claims that Banelco did not follow all protocols in its haste to declare the PSA awarded to Vivant. Direct negotiations, they claim, can only happen after two failed PSA bidding exercises. This aspect, however, is for the Energy Regulatory Commission to pass upon.

The legal tussle between Bipcor and Vivant is not the first of its kind. It will not be the last.

The small power suppliers all over the country will certainly be facing challenges to their expiring contracts from large conglomerates that can easily overrun them with superior financial resources and wider technical networks.

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