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Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Oligarchy is back

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"I just hope I am wrong about this."


Oligarchy is doubtlessly making inroads into the country’s lucrative power industry, and our so-called democratic institutions are helping them achieve their rapacious objectives.

Consider this. A Makati-based power conglomerate is making untrammeled headway to capture the supply of electricity in the Visayas, abetted by the unholy collaboration of government regulators, the court of law, and local electric cooperatives.

An unmistakable evidence of this conspiracy theory is the Bantayan Island experience in Cebu where a subsidiary of the Makati-based Vivant Energy Corp. appears to be enjoying five-star room service in its bid to take over the local power supply at the expense of an existing indigenous company.

A local Regional Trial Court seems to have surrendered decency and fairness in the discharge of its duty as a mediator of sorts in resolving the case between the Johnny-come-lately Vivant Integrated Diesel Corp. and the home-grown Bantayan Island Power Corp., holder of the current power supply contract in the island.

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The RTC, in utter disregard of fair play and ethical correctness, ruled in favor of Vivant in deciding the contest over an appeal for a temporary restraining order initiated by Bipcor in an attempt to derail the imminent grant of the power supply agreement to Vivant.

Here’s what took place. The RTC judge initially gave the contending parties five working days to submit their respective arguments. The deadline was supposed to end on a Monday. Alas, the judge handed down his decision on that fateful same Monday when Bipcor was poised to submit its position papers, confident that it is doing so within the time frame given by the court.

That being said, the judge had unbelievably prejudged the case; he already had a decision beforehand.

Talk about fair play and level playing field. Talk about justice and injustice. As the martyred human rights leader Martin Luther King Jr had said; “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

Rewind to the time when the PSA was still under negotiations between Vivant and the Bantayan Electric Cooperative. At this point, the transactions were supposed to adhere closely to the protocols defined by the Competitive Selection Process as laid down by the Energy Regulatory Commission in a 2015 memorandum circular.

At this stage, the process was also obviously railroaded and manipulated in favor of Vivant, setting aside all arguments and protestations raised by Bipcor.

At the end of the day (that was last November) Vivant proudly announced that it has bagged the PSA awarded by the Banelco. Under the 15-year contract, the holder would set up a 23-megawatt diesel-fired generator to energize Bantayan Island.

The whole upgraded power project will consist of two 7.5-MW bunker-fired units and three 2.8-MW units seen to be completed as Bipcor’s existing contract expires next year.

If allegations were true, the grant of the PSA to Vivant was done with undue haste and without giving Bipcor sufficient time to complete its financial and technical offers.

Bipcor submitted an undertaking promising to present its bids within the prescribed period but this was reportedly peremptorily denied.

Put another way, Bipcor lost by default. 

In effect, there was a failure of bidding. Banelco then felt it had all the rights and the good reasons to proceed and confer the PSA to Vivant.

Banelco did just that in apparent violation of the CSP rules providing that a distribution utility may execute a PSA only after successfully complying with the protocols.

One of the requirements is for a DU to conduct a public bidding involving at least two qualified bids from generation companies.

Direct negotiations with other suppliers can only be done after two failed CSPs.

Feeling that there was a clear violation of the CSP, Bipcor tried to stop the grant of the PSA by asking for a TRO from the RTC.

The rest is now history.

Did I say that Vivant is primarily owned by the tremendously rich, powerful and influential Aboitiz clan? You bet I didn’t. But arguably, the Aboitizes qualify as an oligarch.

These are the facts I gathered, but I will be very happy to be proven wrong.

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