‘Extra power LP’s ploy’

Solons, activists see through ruling party fund-raising moves

LAWMAKERS and anti-pork activists on Sunday accused President Benigno Aquino III of seeking emergency powers to divert money from the P137 billion Malampaya Fund to the Liberal Party 2016 campaign chest.

People Opposed to Unwarranted Electricity Rates (POWER) and Bayan Muna Reps. Neri Colmenares and Carlos Isagani Zarate accused Energy Secretary Jericho Petilla and the Palace of conveniently creating an artificial power shortage to justify the emergency powers that would allow the President to negotiate with power industry players for power supply.

Colmenares                Zarate
“It is nothing but a bogey to justify the grant of emergency powers to President Aquino,” Zarate said.

“This emergency power is even probably designed so that Malacanang can dip its fingers again into the Malampaya fund, the spending of which was already restricted by the November 2013 decision of the Supreme Court,” Zarate added.

“The Malampaya spending for non-energy related projects was made in the run-up to the 2013 midterm elections. And now that the 2016 presidential polls near, emergency power is being pushed,” Zarate said.

“Why the rush when they did nothing for the past four years? They’re rushing now because the elections are drawing near,” said former Bayan Muna Rep. Teddy Casiño, also POWER president and newly designated spokesman for the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan.

Casiño said POWER opposes the emergency powers because they would grant the President the authority to negotiate contracts.

“We reject the granting of emergency powers because once the President negotiated contracts for bunker fuel and diesel-fired plants, a ‘take-or-pay provision’ will be inserted, which means that even if the consumers did not use up the power that was supplied by the contractors, the consumer would still pay for the unused power. And this would be passed on to consumers by way of higher electricity rates,” Casino said.

In 2011, Zarate recalled President Aquino released a total of of P13.26 billion in Malampaya funds, with the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) getting the largest share at P4.95 billion.

The Department of Finance and National Power Corp. were recorded as the biggest spenders at P4.6 billion, Zarate said.

The Malampaya funds are disbursed at the sole discretion of the President. Projects funded from the Malampaya do not undergo congressional scrutiny.

“In 2012, the total disbursement for the Malampaya fund was P1.98 billion with the Department of National Defense (DND) and the DOF-National Electrification Authority as the only two agencies that were given access to the funds.

“This kind of spending is what makes pork barrel, especially presidential pork barrel, anomalous,” Zarate said.

“It’s the military that’s making a killing out of the Malampaya funds and it was for this reason that the Supreme Court issued a ruling in November 2013 restricting the usage of Malampaya funds and confined it only to energy-related projects,” Zarate said.

“The government now wants to skirt the Supreme Court restriction by way of emergency powers,” Zarate said.

Colmenares said a total of P6.25 billion in Malampaya funds was released by President Aquino to AFP-DND.

The amount, he said, was almost half of the P15 billion that was released by the President from the Malampaya fund.

“All these have been declared illegal under the November 2013 ruling of the Supreme Court and it is in this light that we are urging the Commission on Audit to conduct a full audit of the Malampaya funds,” Colmenares said.

“Had the Aquino government used the Malampaya funds to develop the energy industry, the consumers would have been enjoying lower power rates and fewer brownouts by now,” Zarate said.

Zarate insisted there was enough capacity to cover the supposed shortfall in the energy supply for summer 2015.

“There is more to this phantom shortfall than meets the eye,” Zarate said.

Colmenares contested Petilla’s assertion that a power crisis will hit the country next year.

Colmenares and Zarate said the data coming from the Department of Energy (DOE) itself belie the forecast 2015 energy crisis.

Citing DOE figures, Colmenares said as of 2013, the installed capacity for the Luzon grid is 12,790 megawatts and dependable capacity is at 11,469 mw.

The peak demand for the grid is just at 8,700 mw with Meralco’s portion of that being 6,121 mw, based on 2014 figures, Colmenares said.

“Deducting dependable capacity from peak demand, there should have been allowance for reserves amounting to 2,700 mw. This is more than the 400 mw deficit that Secretary Petilla claims. Based on the DOE figures even in a tight supply condition, there should be more than enough supply,” Colmenares said.

“Now, even if there would be a shortfall of electricity, the government can still tap state-owned power plants like the Malaya power plant and the Sucat power plant. These power plants should be immediately rehabilitated and recommissioned instead of being sold to the private sector,” Colmenares said.

As of April this year, Colmenares said the Power Sector Assets and Liabilities Management Corp. (PSALM), the government agency tasked to manage state-owned power assets, has closed the bidding for the 850-megawatt Sucat Thermal Power Plant in Muntinlupa City.

“Even with just the Malaya power plant alone running its full dependable capacity at 610 mw, it can already offset the supposed power deficit of 400 mw being aired by Secretary Petilla. If the government is to operate the Sucat power plant as well at 850 mw, then, there would be no power crisis for at least three years,” Colmenares said.

“It is good that more and more people and agencies are being critical of this proposed emergency powers because on the one hand it will cause power rate hikes and on the other hand, it will plunder the Malampaya funds,” Zarate said.

The Palace on Sunday denied speculation that the call for emergency powers had something to do with Charter change.

“For the malicious, this has nothing to do with the Charter change some quarters are pushing,” Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said in an interview with radio dzRB.

Coloma noted that the emergency power is just one of the options Aquino is pushing amid a foreseen energy crisis in 2015.

“Energy Secretary Jericho Petilla already said the President is looking for options, where industry players can help in,” he added, saying the energy situation is a top priority, as already mentioned by Aquino during his State of the Nation Address.

Petilla earlier told energy industry reporters that Aquino is already seriously considering seeking emergency powers from Congress after industry stakeholders were lukewarm toward using an interruptible laod program (ILP).

Mindanao, which suffered an acute power shortage, used an ILP with generation uints serving as backup for large users such as malls. Businesses were given incentives to use their own generating units during peak hours, giving distribution utilities the flexibility to serve other customers. – With Joyce Pangco Pañares

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