Power shortages, politics, and the unemployment problem

DIRECT FROM THE LABOR FRONT - Atty Josephus B Jimenez - The Freeman

The series of power shortages confronting the whole of Mindanao may prove to be the final straw in the ultimate unmaking of  this administration. The president manifested impatience with the Energy Secretary, who, for the nth time, has promised to address the problem within a defined timetable, and failed again. That is the problem with entrusting technical problems to politicians. They have unbroken records of being notorious for false promises, or, of over promising and then, under delivering. The DOE (Department of Energy) Secretary did make a bold promise to have Tacloban fully lighted by Christmas time. He failed to deliver on time. In fairness to him, he did tender his supposed ''resignation'', which the president, another politician, did not accept. It is almost Holy Week now, and there is no indubitable evidence that he finally redeemed his promise to his fellow Leytenos. Tsk, tsk. He was a very good governor and is proving to be no good as an Energy Secretary.

The overall responsibility of  leading and managing the energy situation in the whole country should be entrusted to a technocrat, not a politician. The president might have chosen (again) the right person for the wrong job. He appointed another politician to replace the highly excellent Ping de Jesus to lead and manage the transportation and communications department. And so, look, what is happening to our transport system. Look at the worst airport in the world, the many traffic accidents that might have resulted from the poor quality of our transport systems. Going back to the energy problem, the president is not at all better than her late mother (with all due respect to the icon of democracy) who appointed an Energy Secretary who did not solve the energy crisis with a sense of urgency, simply because he was busy selling generator sets.

We do not have to be an economist to understand the implications of all these. The power crisis in Mindanao is destroying business growth and job opportunities. It exacerbates the unemployment problem and will further drive investors away. No businessman will be encouraged to put up new businesses, much less expand their existing business operations if the government cannot assure the private sector of an uninterrupted power supply. It is becoming clear that the World Economic Forum's Global Competitiveness is correct: It is not corruption anymore that is the topnotch among the factors that drive away investors. It is the lack of fundamental infrastructures, like power, transport, communications, water and facilities. Of course, corruption is the second worst obstacle to competitiveness. Thus, if  a government, like ours, entrusts the infrastructures to politicians, then the results are expected and inevitable.

The timing is very bad. Mindanao is about to leap forward, with a framework for peace already signed with Muslim freedom fighters. And then, this power crisis. Power in this country is beyond the effective control of government because the State committed the fatal error of giving away its control of the energy sector. When the PNOC (Philippine National Oil Company ) as well as all its subsidiaries such as the PNOC-EDC (Energy Development Corporation), the BRC (Bataan Refining Company), the PNOC-STC (Shipping and Transport Corporation), and the jewel of all, the PETROPHIL (later renamed Petron) were all privatized, the government has abandoned its strategic and essential control of all these national assets. Now, even the government and all its instrumentalities are subject to the manipulations of the market by greedy power players.

This writer had the good fortune of having worked in both the PNOC and Petrophil as Employee Relations Manager. I observed firsthand how then President Marcos and Energy Secretary Geronimo Velasco were able to maneuver the supply and demand situation, even under the most trying circumstances. Today, the government is under the gun of power players, the generators and the distributors and the many unseen but very powerful men and women who manipulate supply, demand, prices, and availability. It is the greatest irony of our time, that whilst the economy grew by 7.2% , underemployment rose to more than 20%. The power crisis shall again exacerbate the problem and can even derail the growth projection by the president's economic team.

It is not natural disasters and calamities that shall destroy the nation. It is not the rebels or China's bullying that can unmake this administration. It is the fact that the national leadership has entrusted a highly technical task to a politician who may not fully understand the nuances and the ramifications of  the power problem. And so, the interests of the whole nation, as well as the security of  the State, are gambled away to the brink of grave and imminent danger. What a pity.

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