5 senators support emergency powers
MANILA, Philippines—Senators are inclined to grant President Benigno Aquino III emergency powers to avert the threat of a power crisis, but with a caveat: Avoid the costly power deals forged during the Ramos administration.
Senators Francis Escudero, Sonny Angara, Grace Poe, Ralph Recto and JV Ejercito on Friday expressed their willingness to back the President’s call for Congress to pass a joint resolution allowing the government to contract 600 megawatts in additional capacity.
Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. said the other day that the House of Representatives would also look favorably on the issue of granting emergency powers to the President, though some of Mr. Aquino’s critics in the chamber were wary of granting such powers.
“I am willing to support it but will make sure that the mistakes and shortcomings of the emergency powers given to then President Ramos will be avoided,” Escudero said in a text message.
Escudero, the finance committee chair, said the power purchase agreements that Ramos concluded with independent power producers (IPPs) during a power crisis in the early 1990s were the “main reason why power rates are high in the country.”
The senator said he would make sure that “adequate safeguards,” such as transparency and accountability clauses, are incorporated into the resolution granting emergency powers to Mr. Aquino.
The agreements with the IPPs were onerous because the government guaranteed payment of all power supply contracts regardless of whether power was supplied or not, critics have said.
Costly IPP deals
An independent study commissioned by the Senate energy committee in 2000 identified 12 IPP deals signed by the Ramos administration as among the most expensive.
Still, National Power Corp. said Ramos did succeed in ending the crippling energy crisis that began in the previous Cory Aquino administration in 18 months.
Mr. Aquino is asking Congress to pass a joint resolution—which will have the force of law—authorizing the government to contract an additional generating capacity of 600 MW to plug the 300-MW projected deficit, as well as have sufficient regulating reserves of another 330 MW.
A technical report that Energy Secretary Jericho Petilla had prepared for the President’s State of the Nation Address in July projected that Luzon would suffer an energy shortage of 400 MW to 1,000 MW from March to May 2015.
Petilla had proposed in the same report that the President invoke Section 71, known as the “electric power crisis provision” of the Electric Power Industry Reform Act of 2001, to ask Congress for emergency powers to deal with the impending crisis.
Not until the other day in a speech at the launch of the Pagbilao III power plant project in Makati City did Mr. Aquino take up Petilla’s proposal, announcing that he would formally ask Congress for a joint resolution so the government could “contract” the additional generating capacity needed to deal with the imminent power crisis.
Section 71 states that Congress could allow the “establishment of additional generating capacity under such terms and conditions as it may approve.”
Aside from the plan to contract additional generating capacity, Mr. Aquino has directed the Department of Energy to “continue to solicit participation” in the interruptible load program (ILP) until 2015.
The ILP taps private entities with spare generators like Manila Electric Co. to make their units available to come up with additional capacity.
The government will compensate these generator owners with the approval of the Energy Regulatory Commission, Mr. Aquino said.
Consumers should be protected
Angara, chair of the Senate ways and means committee, said the senators were willing to help the President solve the impending power shortage, otherwise industries would not be able to create jobs for Filipinos.
“We just would like to ensure also that the consumers will be protected going forward and that the terms are not unfavorable or onerous to the government or the people,” Angara said in a text message.
“We have one of the highest rates in Asia. We should not let this worsen,” he added.
Poe said there was no debate about the need for additional generating capacity.
“However, the mode by which to achieve this has to be discussed as soon as possible. What is important is that we do not commit the same mistakes, and that as we provide enough power, we should not enter into an agreement that will unduly [burden] our consumers,” she said in a text message.
Ejercito of the Senate minority said he too was willing to support the granting of emergency powers to avert an energy crisis.
“We just have to put necessary safeguards to make sure that abuse of the emergency powers like the one during Ramos’ time will not happen,” he said.
What’s the basis?
Recto, the Senate President Pro Tempore, said he was also inclined to grant such powers to the President but Petilla should explain the basis for this.
“Secretary Petilla recommended it a long time ago. The President was reluctant, studied the proposal and has agreed that he needs it,” Recto said in a text message.
“The President is now asking for it. I am inclined to support the President’s request. Secretary Petilla must now explain the issues to Congress. We will also listen to all stakeholders,” he added.
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