BABE’S EYE VIEW
By Babe Romualdez
The Philippine Star
In 1987, the late Energy Secretary Ronnie Velasco warned the Cory government of a severe power shortage as a consequence of the cancellation of the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant. Before he could explain why, a Cabinet official reeking with newly acquired “arrogance of power” told Velasco, on nationwide television, to “shut up” and just explain the corruption surrounding the Westinghouse deal. One year later, massive blackouts started taking place, literally taking the country into the “dark ages.” Towards the middle of 1992, record power outages lasting for 12 hours resulted in billions of pesos of business losses, with hundreds of thousands of workers laid off (many of them in the garments and semiconductor industries).
After FVR took over as president, he quickly moved to solve the power crisis by figuratively taking the bull by the horn, engaging in fast-track emergency measures. But the quick fix solution however became even more costly in the end especially for the consuming public. Power barges were quickly utilized to address the crisis with 40 power plant projects signed over to independent power producers — with the controversial “take and pay” provisions that forced Filipino taxpayers to pay for fixed energy costs, currently estimated at P4 billion a month, whether these IPPS supplied electricity or not.
But perhaps the most costly mistake of all was the failure of government to either build new power plants or tap into renewable energy sources over the years, relying instead on aging power infrastructure and imported fossil fuel to address the growing demand for energy. It’s like continually ignoring the need to fix a car problem, postponing until the condition gets worse and becomes more expensive to solve — to the point that you are left with little choice but to buy a new and more expensive car. And that is the story of our country — we only react when the situation becomes untenable and ready to explode in our face.
Ironically today, we are facing the same situation with a severe power crisis in Mindanao, followed by a shortage in Visayas and then Luzon — something that world organizations have warned of a long time ago. If the supply shortfall is not addressed, the whole country will be plunged into darkness, with Mindanao the most critical of all. How do we expect to have peace in the region if we cannot even supply electricity to potential investors to spur the economy and improve the quality of life especially in the poorer districts where there is civil unrest? No doubt the situation in the south could become even more restless and unfriendly to investors.
And so, here we are once again engaged in the blame game. Energy Secretary Rene Almendras (a classmate of Noynoy) claims he warned Congress about the impending crisis a long time ago. However, legislators, in particular Senator Antonio Trillanes, said Almendras is to blame and his resignation is a prerequisite to granting emergency powers to President Noynoy Aquino — a proposal that was rejected by P-Noy saying he is not sure if emergency measures are necessary at this point.
Some sectors want to sue Napocor and the National Grid Power Corp. for their alleged failure to address the problem in Mindanao and for failing to prepare contingency measures. Other groups are claiming that the shortage is artificial since Mindanao has enough supply of power sources like hydro — saying the blackouts were intentional to justify the use of power barges at higher rates. Some DOE officials however are blaming local electric cooperatives’ refusal to contract necessary capacities in their areas — resulting in long power interruptions across Mindanao.
What is clear is that the power crisis is like a hot potato that no one wants to touch. Current officials can keep pointing to the past but that has no real value to Filipinos who look to the current leadership with only one question in mind: “What are you in power for if you cannot solve the power problem?” Clearly, playing the blame game is not going to appease the consumers, and neither will a mistaken notion of rewarding loyalty with continued tolerance or patronage despite obvious ineptitude. I have learned on many occasions that loyalty from employees only works if it is complemented by efficiency and competence. Otherwise, you can consider loyalty a worthless commodity.
UN population experts have warned us many times that unbridled population growth (estimated at 103,775,002 Filipinos according to latest CIA World Fact figures) will make the Philippines vulnerable especially if the economy and power output will not grow fast enough to sustain the ever-increasing needs of an ever-growing population. Unless we stop being shortsighted and start planning for long-term solutions, the energy crisis will only get worse and far more serious. Compounded by an impending worldwide water shortage, the social volcano that has been predicted all too often may just happen sooner than later. If and when that happens, we will only have ourselves to blame.
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Sarangani Congressman Manny Pacquiao called me the other day to tell me about the tax charges leveled against him by the BIR. Manny says he would rather pay taxes to the BIR rather than the US IRS, but what he is being asked to pay locally has already been taxed by the US government — pointing out our tax treaty with the US. Manny claims the BIR official refused to accept his claims and just slapped him with a tax case. Manny says that while it’s true that the BIR has to do its job, people should be given due process and a chance to explain their side first — instead of unilaterally having their names dragged before the media.
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