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

This was a wild week for the House of Representatives even by its own standards.

On Monday, we saw supporters of Lord Allan Velasco assemble at a sports club to choose a new Speaker. Although the roll was read, there was no real voting that went on. Nevertheless, the group announced Velasco was “elected” by the majority and henceforth went through the motions of appointing key officers of the chamber.

The stage, it seemed, was set for a chaotic confrontation with the Cayetano-led bloc akin to that episode when Pantaleon Alvarez was yanked out of the speakership. It was a messy effort – including the disappearance of the ceremonial mace – that delayed President Duterte’s delivery of the State of the Nation.

Velasco supporters gathered early the next day, like a mob scraping for a fight. At about midday, President Duterte summoned the two rivals to the Palace. In minutes, Cayetano tendered his “irrevocable resignation” and Velasco went promptly to the dais and presided over the plenary. A truly comical event was averted.

But the Velasco camp, strangely, did not hold a nominal vote as required by the rules. As a result, we do not have a reliable list of who actually voted Velasco. In place of a nominal vote, the various political parties included in the pro-Duterte “supermajority” issued manifestos supporting the transfer of the speakership.

Among those that issued a statement was the Nacionalista Party, to which Cayetano belonged. The number of Velasco supporters quickly grew from 186 announced the day before to about 240 on the basis of such declarations.

Contrast this with the nominal vote Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo insisted on the day she assumed the post from Alvarez. It might have been a mere formality, but that was what the rules required.

A nominal vote also clearly identifies who belongs to the majority and who is consigned to the minority. This is important in making committee assignments – not the least to the powerful Appointments Committee.

What the events of this week underscore is the fickle nature of factional loyalties in the House. What was lightly pledged might also be just as lightly withdrawn. The factional lines drawn today may quickly be redrawn tomorrow on the pettiest motivation.

Today there is a sense of instability settling in this august chamber – all because the choice of leadership has clearly ceased to be on the basis of consensus among elected representatives and more on the basis of presidential preference.

When Duterte intervened the first time, leading to that notorious “Magellan” term sharing arrangement, his overriding interest was the conservation of the pro-administration coalition. In his second intervention, to enforce the term sharing arrangement, the overriding interest is to get the budget promptly passed.

In the process, the institutional autonomy of the House was seriously eroded.

Reliable

The National Capital Region and contiguous provinces account for the major portion of the country’s GDP. As we struggle to climb out of this pandemic-induced recession, the reliability of energy supply is a key consideration.

An independent technical group called Energy Intel PH recently released a study on energy reliability across the regions. In its System Average Interruption Frequency Index (SAIFI), measuring interruption in power supply of over five minutes, the National Capital Region posted the lowest rate – by a mile.

For 2019, there were five power supply interruptions in the NCR compared to over a hundred for the Mimaropa region. Power interruption was significantly lower in the NCR than every other region in the country.

The NCR also ranked the lowest for scheduled power interruptions. What we might call the “reliability gap” between the NCR and the rest of the country’s regions is more than significant. That gap is further underscored by the fact that the NCR accounts for the highest population and therefore the most number of consumers.

The index tells us that much work has to be done by the distribution utilities outside the NCR to improve on the reliability of their power systems. Our economy will not roar if power supply is spotty.

Meralco is the distribution utility serving the NCR. Over the years, the company has invested much in its distribution system to achieve reliable power supply the metropolis.

In addition to the reliability of its distribution system, Meralco rates have sunk to their lowest levels in three years. With the volume of power it distributes to homes and factories alike, Meralco has been able to leverage on the power supply agreements it has contracted. This has been a conscious strategy of the distribution utility’s management team led by Ray Espinosa.

Lower power rates have an impact on the lower inflation rate we now enjoy. Cheaper electricity is also a factor influencing investor decisions about where to locate business.

For years, our economic managers have been trying to disperse investments to other part of the country. There has been an effort to decongest the National Capital Region. But if the cost of electricity and the reliability of the power supply are not improved in the other regions, it will be difficult to disperse investment and economic opportunities nationwide.

In a word, the cheaper electricity and reliable power supply we enjoy in the metropolitan area do not only make for happy customers. They have lasting implications about where investments and economic opportunities go. For as long as electricity is costlier in the other regions and power supply is significantly more unreliable, the pattern of economic concentration (and congestion) in Metro Manila cannot be reversed.

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