AN opposition lawmaker accused President Benigno Aquino III Sunday of blackmailing Congress into granting him emergency powers, saying they would be blamed for power outages next year if they did not do so.
In trying to pass the buck to Congress, Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares said, the President was covering his own inaction and failure to deal with the looming shortage.
“It seems that President Aquino is now trying to pass the buck on the supposed power crisis to the lawmakers while covering for his Cabinets’ noynoying and inefficiency,” Colmenares said, using a term that pokes ridicule at what critics say is the President’s tendency to waste time and ignore pressing national issues.
“Energy Secretary Jericho Petilla said as of the last week of May that there was enough power supply for 2015 and even for 2016.Then by July he said that there would be a 400 megawatt deficit and recently claimed the deficit may reach up to 900-1,000 MW,” Colmenares said.
“The DOE has not fully established the basis of this predicted deficit. Now they are threatening both the Congress and the people just to get emergency powers,” Colmenares added.
He said the draft of a joint resolution that the Palace wants has not even been submitted to the House committee on energy.
“How can we carefully study the resolution that they seem to be hiding from us? Now they are rushing us into granting them emergency powers. Who will gain from these emergency powers that they are rushing us to grant?” Colmenares said.
A copy of the joint resolution that his office managed to obtain would allow sweetheart deals and take-or-pay contracts in which the public would have to pay for power generated whether or not it is actually used, Colmenares said.
The powers would also enable the government to use taxpayers’ money to rehabilitate, repair and improve plants that are owned by the private sector, he added.
“The budget for these emergency powers will also be sourced from the Malampaya funds and inevitably from the consumers through the universal charges,” Colmenares said.
“The resolution says that the emergency powers will last up to July 31, 2015, meaning that President Aquino will have these powers from six to nine months, which is far from the three months that its proponents are saying,” he said.
The resolution, Colmenares said, also wants to bypass permits but doing this would destroy the grid and would be the cause of blackouts.
“Each plant that would be added to the grid should have a grid impact study because they cannot be forced into the system. Obviously the ones who drafted the resolution do not know the technical parameters in operating a power plant or a generator set,” he said.
“President Aquino wants so much from the emergency powers but up until now Secretary Petilla is still hard put to explain the real energy situation in the country. Besides, based on the rules of Congress, a unilateral declaration for emergency powers cannot be passed in the House of Representatives. A bill or resolution should first be deliberated upon at the committee level and then at the plenary and cannot automatically be passed,” Colmenares said.
“As it is, President Aquino and Secretary Petilla’s threats of brownouts only prove that the country is still in the same rut it was in when the Electric Power Industry Reform Act (EPIRA) was passed. While we continue to question DOE’s basis for the supposed lack of supply, the much feared energy crisis will eventually happen unless we repeal EPIRA and craft a pro-people law that will govern the energy sector,” he said.
Colmenares said the Makabayan bloc to which he belongs opposes emergency powers for the President, “precisely because not only has Secretary Petilla failed to prove the claimed lack of supply, but also because this shortsighted band aid solution will increase the cost of electricity and will not assure stable energy supply.”
“We need long term solutions, not short term magic tricks,” he said.
Colmenares said the only solution to the country’s energy problem is for the government to fund and build power plants.
But the first step toward this solution is to repeal EPIRA now, he said.
“As of now, what would be the basis for Congress and Senate to grant emergency powers to the President before the end of October? There is no hard evidence that there would indeed be a power crisis next year,” he said.
“All we have are the projections and rantings of Secretary Petilla, which are also effectively countered by players in the energy sector as well as the National Grid Corporation of the Philippines,” Colmenares said.
“Many are saying that there are a million and one ways to address a supposed power deficit outside the emergency powers scenario but Malacanang is hell-bent on getting these powers, giving rise to speculation that these will be used for the next elections,” he added.
Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate added that the power crisis was nothing but a bogey to justify the grant of emergency powers to President Aquino.
He said there was enough capacity to cover the supposed shortfall in energy over the summer next year.
“There is more to this phantom shortfall than meets the eye,” said Zarate, also a member of the minority bloc.
“These emergency powers are even probably designed so that Malacanang can dip its fingers again on the Malampaya fund, the spending of which was already restricted by the November 2013 decision of the Supreme Court,” Zarate aid.
“It is good that more and more people and agencies are being critical of these proposed emergency powers because on the one hand they will cause power rate hikes and on the other hand, they will plunder the Malampaya funds.”
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