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Aide doubts public anger on power rate hike aimed at Aquino

By: - Deputy Day Desk Chief / @TJBurgonioINQ
/ 06:48 PM December 13, 2013

Deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte. INQUIRER FILE PHOTO

MANILA, Philippines—A Palace spokesperson acknowledged public anger over the recently announced power rate hike in the Meralco franchise area and looming increases in transport fares but expressed doubt on Friday that it was directed at President Aquino.

The power rate increase and proposed increases in the cost of mass transport concern the President, but stopgap measures are still being drawn up, Palace spokeswoman Abigail Valte said.

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“Obviously, it’s a point of concern that these things are happening at a particular subset of time,’’ she replied when asked if the Executive Department was alarmed by the public anger.

Valte, however, disagreed with observations that the growing furor over the increase in electricity rates and its ripple effect on other prices was directed at the President.

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“Perhaps  public anger has to do with the power hikes. But I’m not quite ready to agree with you that it’s a directed to the government. We’ve seen instructions issued by the President to cushion its impact. I’m not quite ready to agree with you there that anger is directed to the President,’’ she said.

She added, however, that she could not say to whom public anger was directed.

Militant groups mounted rallies outside offices of the Manila Electric Co. to protest the rate increase.

Consumers expect that the increase of P4.15 per kilowatt in the electricity generation charge  would lead to increases in the prices of goods.

And the riding public would have to deal with the proposed fare increases on both the Light Rail Transit and Metro Rail Transit trains in Metro Manila.

Valte tried to allay fears about the inflationary effect of the power rate increase. She also left it to the Bureau of Internal Revenue to respond to proposals to suspend the value-added tax.

“When the sin tax measure was passed, that was also factored into the computations and it’s not just a specific target; there is always a range. So as long as it’s within that range of inflation then we shouldn’t have any major issues with it,’’ she said.

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Valte said the President has instructed members of the Cabinet  to draw up ways to cushion the impact of the power rate increase.

She cited Mr. Aquino’s instructions that a determination be made if the Malampaya fund coulkd be used to subsidize electricity consumption as the law creating the fund specifies it be used only for exploration and development of energy sources.

But she noted that discussion on the subject were still ongoing and and took umbrage over criticism it was taking government officials a long time to make such a determination.

“I would just mention that haste makes waste. These are very important issues that need to be looked at with a thoroughness that the gravity of the issue dictates. So we understand that there is also a need to come up with something, at least to present to the consumers at this point. However, these discussions are fairly new, fairly young, and rest assured that… the Cabinet secretaries are giving it the appropriate attention as directed by the President,’’ she said.

She said she get back to the officials c oncerned to asked them when they intend to disclose “something more concrete.’’

“None that I know of,’’ she replied when asked if there were any results already from a study on the matter being conducted by a team composed of Energy Secretary Jericho Petilla, Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima, Budget Secretary Florencio Abad, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Alfredo Caguioa and Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa.

In a recent ruling, the Supreme Court  removed presidential discretion over the Malampaya fund, which consists of the government’s share of revenues from the sale of natural gas from the Malampaya gas fields off the west coast of Palawan province and taxes.

But a provision of Presidential Decree No. 910 allowed the fund to be spent “for such other purposes as may be hereafter directed by the President.”

A total of P137 billion remains of the fund.

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TAGS: ews, power rate hikes, president Aquino iii, public anger
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