DID the Aquino Administration do anything right this past week? From having a prized “emergency powers” measure ignominiously scuttled by his heretofore captive legislature to watching his party’s latest plot against the House of Binay blow up in their faces in spectacular public fashion, everything seemed to be working against the wishes of President B.S. Aquino 3rd.
The slow collapse of the regime due to its own comical incompetence might be entertaining, but we should probably be alarmed rather than amused. There are serious political and economic implications to what has happened this week, and it is probably far too much to expect that the Administration will learn how to do things in a logical, forward-looking manner in time to minimize the consequences.
No emergency powers for you
Congress adjourned for its Easter break on Thursday afternoon, leaving behind the pathetic shell of an idea originally hatched by Energy Secretary (and key Liberal Party figure) Jericho Petilla, the “emergency powers” measure supposedly needed by Aquino in order to “do something” about the “looming” electricity crisis.
In the latter part of last year, Petilla expended a great deal of hysterical energy trying to convince Congress and the public that the President needed to be given carte blanche to spend a budget of P4 billion or more to try to overcome a huge shortfall of electricity for Luzon in the dry March-to-June period this year. Petilla’s outburst, however, came in the wake of revelations of corruption and mismanagement in the form of the Administration’s dubious “disbursement acceleration program” and the subsequent Supreme Court ruling declaring it illegal, and so it was subjected to a bit more scrutiny than it would have been a year earlier.
Hearings in both the House and the Senate quickly revealed that Petilla’s claim of a supply shortage of hundreds of megawatts was a gross exaggeration. The Luzon grid would, in all likelihood, experience a period of several weeks in which power reserves were insufficient or unavailable, a problem that still needed to be addressed but did not require a solution as drastic and costly as leasing oil-fired power barges, which is what Petilla was proposing.
As a consequence, the terms of the “emergency powers” resolutions—counterpart measures were launched in both the House and the Senate—were scaled back to focus on the comparatively unobtrusive fix offered by the Interruptible Load Program (ILP). The two versions of the measure differed mainly in who would fund the reimbursements offered to commercial and industrial consumers for using their own generators at critical times; the House version would have drawn the budget from the Malampaya gas royalties fund, whereas the Senate version would have passed the costs on to electricity consumers.
With a bicameral conference failing to produce a compromise version of the measure before the spring recess, the chances of the resolution being passed at all are slim, and even if it is passed sometime after May 4 when Congress returns to work, it is likely to be too late to be of any use.
The real reason for the failure is that while the Energy Department (apart from the excitable Petilla) made a reasonable case that the government needs to “do something” about a potential power shortage, no one ever made a convincing argument for the President’s need for “emergency powers,” nor could anyone adequately explain what Aquino was supposed to do with them, once his and Petilla’s original idea—being able to unilaterally contract oil-fired power barges at whatever price was asked—was firmly rejected by the Legislature.
In fact, the only ‘power’ the aborted decree could have conferred on Aquino was the authority to direct that the Malampaya fund be used to reimburse corporate participants in the ILP, which was the intention of the House version of the measure.
The Senate version, which passed the extra costs on to electric consumers, was for all practical purposes completely pointless. Under ordinary circumstances the ILP is managed by distribution utilities, with the costs eventually resulting in higher rates; the Senate resolution, in effect, would have done nothing more than to encourage the President to order the concerned agencies to do what they would be doing anyway, even if he hadn’t said anything.
The upshot of all this is that while the Executive and Legislative branches have occupied all the time before the presumed onset of the “critical period” for Luzon’s electric supply in quibbling over meaningless formalities, precious little has been done to actually address the potential crisis. Although there are still indications that the power shortfall will not be as bad as originally advertised, it is pretty clear there will be one—all the antics over completely unnecessary “emergency powers” accomplished is to create a great deal of uncertainty whether what should be a manageable problem will be managed properly, or managed at all.
Circus in Makati
About once a year, it seems that the powers that be somehow collectively decide that they need to remind everyone that the Philippines is, in fact, still a third-world country, and stage that old chestnut of a drama called “Local official suspended on what may or may not be a flimsy pretext barricades him/herself in his/her office.”
The situation in Makati, with said besieged mayor being Jejomar Erwin “Junjun” Binay, son of Vice President and Political Enemy Number One Jejomar Binay, is an utter embarrassment to all concerned and to the country in general. Beginning with the office of the Ombudsman issuing a hasty suspension order even before the preparation of actual charges, to Interior Secretary Mar Roxas dispatching a regiment of Special Action Force troopers to deliver the order, to the younger Binay’s undignified stubbornness, to Justice Secretary Leila de Lima’s creatively retarded explanation for ignoring a restraining order from the Court of Appeals and setting up a rival mayor in a different building, this humiliating farce has occupied the public’s attention for a week and brought the normal administrative work (including disbursing the payroll for several thousand city employees) of the country’s busiest city to a crashing halt.
And it needs to stop, immediately. Showcasing a lack of respect for legal and administrative processes and a complete lack of awareness of the concept of credibility is not really an achievement, and does nothing to boost confidence in the Philippine system.