A relevant president will not allow power producers and electricity distributors to dictate runaway power rates

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YEN MAKABENTA

YEN MAKABENTA

The term “Relevant President” is an inversion of a point first made by Antonio Montalvan 2nd in his column in The Philippine Inquirer (“An Irrelevant President” 17 November 2013). His stirring piece hit the core of the Yolanda tragedy. And he concluded it with these words:

“We honor all those who have died in this heart-rending calamity. We honor each and everyone who now wake up to another day of sorrow they will have to live with for the rest of their lives . . . The whole world’s humanity, now converging in the Philippines, honors them. Never mind if the most powerful man in the Philippines has not. He does not matter now. He has begun to reveal his irrelevance. He no longer is our leader.”

Whatever Mr. Aquino is now, he is not leading in the increasingly bitter and volatile struggle against the looming power rate hike in Metro Manila and Central Luzon

Doing his best Pontius Pilate impersonation, Aquino says he has no power and can do nothing to stop the rate hike.


He hides behind the excuse that the Energy Regulatory Commission, which approved the rate hike, is an independent agency that is not under the Office of the President or the Department of Energy.

Through his clueless deputy spokesman Abigail Valte, he issued the innocuous suggestion that consumers should seek relief in court, and the empty gesture of instructing Energy Secretary Jericho Petilla to look into what can be done about the issue.

This is the extent of Malacañang engagement in the issue even as damning evidence has piled up indicating that the government has slept on the job, that there may be collusion between the power plant producers and electricity distributors, and that the fallout on the economy could be as severe as that of a typhoon.

PCCI vice president for energy and utilities Jose Alejandro says the government was already aware last year that the Malampaya gas field would have to be closed for maintenance, but, it did nothing to address the problem.

Some in Congress and the private sector say there is need to review the Electric Power Industry Reform Act (Epira) of 2001, perhaps even rescind it.

There are also calls for Energy Secretary Jericho Petilla to resign for his failure to avert the power rate hike. “Secretary Petilla should concentrate on how to lower power rates and not on being a spokesman for the power cartel,” says one party-list congressman.

The simultaneous shutdown of power plants as trigger for a huge increase in electricity rates, is seen as an old tactic employed by a powerful cartel operating in the country. Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate sees a pattern in the “synchronized” shutdown of several plants starting from 2011.

The Malampaya outage “has become an annual event and the consumers are always the victims and at the losing end. This is nothing but a modus operandi of a cartelized industry and the Aquino administration is not doing anything as it is apparently becoming its protector instead,” he adds

In sum, the problems and issues behind the power rate hike are multiple and complex. And it will take nothing less than a total and determined effort to solve it. It needs a leader.

A serious and relevant President will not wash his hands of the problem. He will lead in addressing it, and he will not stop working until the problem is solved.

To understand how a serious leader would act in this or a similar situation, it is instructive to study how the great President Franklin Delano Roosevelt tackled effectively a thorny power crisis during his time.

Roosevelt and the power issue
I will quote Roosevelt at length because he clearly outlined how a regulation commission should do its work and how to put a utility tycoon in his place. He wrote:

“The power issue, where vigorously handled in the public interest, means abundant and cheaper power for American industry, reduced rates and increased use in millions of urban and rural homes . . .

“It is the purpose of government to see that not only the legitimate interests of the few are protected but that the welfare and rights of the many are conserved . . .

“Power has been discussed so much in complex language in terms which only a lawyer can understand, or in figures which only an accountant can understand.

“A public service commission is the proper way for the people themselves to protect their interests. In practice, however, it has in many instances departed from its proper sphere of action and also from its theory of responsibility. It is an undeniable fact that in our modern American practice the public service commissions have often failed to live up to the high purpose for which they were created. In many instances their selection has been obtained by the public utility corporations themselves.

“These corporations have often influenced, to the prejudice of the public, the actions of public service commissions . . .

“The public service commission is not a mere arbitrator between the people and the public utilities, but was created for the purpose of seeing that the utilities do two things—give service and charge reasonable rates.

“The regulation commission must be a tribune of the people, putting its engineering, accounting and legal resources into real use for the purpose of getting the facts and doing justice to both the consumers and the investors in public utilities. This means positive and active protection of the public against private greed.

“State-owned federal-owned power sites can and should be developed by government itself . . . As an important part of this policy, the natural hydroelectric power resources belonging to the people should remain forever in their possession. This policy is as radical as American liberty. Never shall the government part with its sovereignty and control over its power resources while I am President of the United States.”

It took Roosevelt 12-years of battling the utility companies to put his vision in a law passed by Congress and backed by government funding. On May 21, 1936, he signed the Rural Electrification Act, which created the Rural Electrification Administration,

According to the author Felix Rohatyn, Roosevelt’s electrification program literally transformed America.

Within the first two years of the operation of the REA, 1.5 million farms in 45 states received electrical power from 3540 cooperatives. Over the subsequent decades, the electrical grid continued to expand. By the 1950s, in just 20 years, REA had provided power to nearly all American farms.

In his book, Bold Endeavors, Felix Rohatyn reveals that Roosevelt started to think long and hard about electrification when he received at his modest cottage in Warm Springs, Georgia an electric bill that was four times the bill for his upstate New York mansion. He felt this was deeply wrong. And he was concerned about how rural citizens were being deprived of the benefits of electricity. This experience combined with his studies of public utility law at Columbia University shaped his program to electrify the entire country.

I think President Aquino would be able to see the power issue more clearly and care a little more, if he were only a regular family guy, with a home, a wife and children to care for, and a regular electric bill to pay for. No one can be neutral after receiving a Meralco bill tripling or doubling your usual monthly bill.

yenmakabenta@yahoo.com

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14 Comments

  1. The people who voted him should be the one to initiate and leads a people power. because P-Noy can no longer do his job. As if he is already incapacitated. The longer his stay in his office the soonest we find ourselves in graves.

  2. ThunderousCloud on

    to put it simply, the president said it all, he can’t do anything, period!!! i just can’t believe, filipinos elected this president.

  3. I am powerless to stop it…..

    Such a pathetic statement coming from a president…

    Pilipinas, GISIIIIIING…!

  4. It is 1 billion percent sure that Pnoy and Mar have never paid personally any electric, water, gasoline, LPG, groceries and wet market purchases in their entire life. It is their alalays who pays it with funds not coming from their (Noy and Mar) pockets but thru their family business or govt funds. Hence, they are clueless about daily life of the 98% population. This is a lesson that we should never elect scions of wealthy families.

  5. florentino maddara on

    This present regime is very unique, all its concern only is their image whereas if only they are sincere in uplifting the welfare of the people they can have all the options and the solutions to solve many problems of this country kahit hindi ka Harvard graduate or college graduate, common sense lang ang gamitin mo alam mo na ang gagawin mo. Previous presidents like Marcos, FVR, Erap and Arroyo even if some of them are allegedly corrupt at least they have conscience enough to prioritize programs that would protect the consumers and help the majority poor of this country.

  6. Claro Apolinar on

    Mr. Makabenta, you have again articulated the people’s deepest feelings and their highest-level of opinion about the Meralco rate increases. There is no hint of destructive socialism in your quoting America’s left-of-center former president FDR. Socialist and pro-communist Filipino lawmakers and labor unions have been advocating state-owned power facilities.
    Mr. Roosevelt himself, as you quote, said: “State-owned federal-owned power sites can and should be developed by government itself . . . As an important part of this policy, the natural hydroelectric power resources belonging to the people should remain forever in their possession. This policy is as radical as American liberty. Never shall the government part with its sovereignty and control over its power resources while I am President of the United States.”
    This is simply common sense, not socialist thinking. For the magnitude of the work to be done and spent for is so massive that only government can satisfactorily handle it.
    The reason we have one of the world’s most expensive electricity is the absence of state control and active leadership in the power industry. In every country where electricity rates are acceptable to households, business and industry, the state is involved somehow–as in the USA as outlined by the late FDR and as legislated or at least in the form of substantial subsidies.
    Our problem with getting the state to play a part is that so many of our government officials and their minions in the government service are corrupt.
    I have a solution to this. Our military, constitutionally is described as “the protector of the people.” Pass a law entrusting the power industry to a specific branch of the Philippine military. Create a rigorous system of choosing the military men and women who will be made members of the electricity-industry task force.
    The law should command this military branch to work on the power industry as as military mission. The military men who commit acts of corruption will, of course, be subject to articles of war and can be court-martialled and so should private-sector power-industry players, managers and employees who make any moves to undermine the mission to reform the industry.

    Claro Apolinar

  7. Jose A. Oliveros on

    A President who admits that he is powerless to take immediate and decisive action on an issue like the power rate hike has no reason to stay in office a minute longer. Somewhere within the four corners of the 1987 Constitution framed by constitutional commissioners hand-picked by PeNoy’s mother is a provision that he can invoke to justify government intervention on the issue. And if he or his legal advisers cannot find one, there is the police power of the state. In the immortal words of Justice Jose P. Laurel, in promoting the welfare of the people, the government can, constitutionally “adopt measures legally justifiable” or extra-constitutionally, through “the exercise of power under the time-honored principle of salus populi est supreme lex.”

  8. Wala tayong maasahan kay Noynoy na kumandito noon 2010 bilang presidente na walang plataporma. Hindi niya alam kung ano ang tungkulin niya bilang pangulo ng Pilipinas. Napatunayan natin ito sa mga nakaraan krisis katulad ng Luneta massare, sa nangyari krisis din sa Sabah at Zamboanga City. Napatunayan din ito sa Typhoon Yolanda na hindi niya alam na dapat tumugon kaagad siya sa mga pangangailangan ng mga nasalanta ng kalamidad na hindi kailangan i-take over ang local government. Sa halip ay lumipas ang mahigit isang linggo bago siya nakatugon dito. At ngayon nga hindi din niya alam ang katungkulan niyang protektahan ang taong bayan laban sa pagtataas ng singil sa electricity, tubig at gasolina. Lahat ng mga ito ay nagpapatunay na naging presidente si Noynoy dahil namatay si Ninoy at Cory kahit na wala siyang kakayahan.

  9. You’re beating a dead horse. What Abnoy and the yellowists meant with: kayo and Boss ko – was the oligarch, cronies, big business and kkk. Not the “ordinary” citizens.

  10. During his campaign one of pnoy’s banner statement said “kung walang corrupt walang mahirap” which sounded closely familiar to erap’s campaign liner “erap para sa mahirap”. Both campaign one liners were brilliant and effective both candidates won and the strategist who coined these was most likely richly rewarded. The obvious common denominator of both campaign are the “mahirap” but as in any political exercise the candidate did not have to mean it he just had to win. After winning there goes his campaign promises to the bin of forgetfulness. Classic example is the rise in electric rates where the mainly affected victims are the “mahirap”. So what does pnoy say about it “I am powerless to stop it” or like what his factotum mar would say to the poor victims of tacloban “bahala kayo sa buhay nyo”. You are so correct when you say that this president has simply betrayed his irrelevance as a leader and that he really did not mean what he said about being concerned about the “mahirap”.

    • I remember Erap begging the oil industry not to raise the gasoline price and the LRT not to raise their fare.Between Erap and Aquino,I would choose the former as far better than Aquino…

  11. Bonifacio Bangayan Claudio on

    I agree it would take a Roosevelt to put Inang Bayan back to its feet… It would take a Roosevelt and the likes of him to prevent Inang Bayan from sliding back to the ways of the past wherein politics was muddy, and those who wallowed were pigs… Yahoooooooo !!!