GRANTING emergency powers to President Benigno Aquino 3rd will not solve a looming energy shortage, House leaders said on Wednesday as convenors of a consumer group warned that granting the President extra powers is “dangerous.”
House Majority Leader Neptali Gonzales 2nd of Mandaluyong City (Metro Manila) and Rep. Reynaldo Umali of Oriental Mindoro noted that there are other ways to address the power crisis that could hit the country next year.
The President on Monday asked Congress to grant him emergency powers to act on power problems that officials said could be felt by March or April next year.
“Aside from emergency powers, there are other provisions of the Epira law that can address this.
provisions of the Epira law that can address this. Has the Department of Energy [DoE] conducted inspections of power plants and told its owners that at no point in the three-month period next year should they conduct maintenance work because there is a greater demand for power supply? As for the ERC [Energy Regulatory Commission], are they doing their job which is to look if there is cartel of power supply and impose penalty on those liable if there [is]such [cartel]?” Gonzales said.
“There are a lot of provisions under the Epira that should have been done but unfortunately, were not done. That is their mandate. The grant of emergency powers is not the solution. It could be a part of the solution, but even without it, the DOE and ERC have the capacity to address the situation,” he added.
Epira is the Electric Power Industry Reform Act.
The President wants Congress to grant him emergency powers through a joint resolution so that the government can enter into contract agreements with power generators.
Under Epira, the government is banned from entering into contracts with power producers unless both Houses of Congress grant the President emergency powers to do so.
“The mandate of the DOE is to plan for five to 10 years. What has been the plan of the DOE since Secretary [Jericho] Petilla took over? Why is it that the emergency was only discovered right now when it could have been anticipated two years ago?” Gonzales asked.
The lawmaker admitted that he was baffled by Petilla’s statement that P6 billion would be needed to contract power producers by the end of October this year to ensure that there will be no power outages from March to May next year.
“How do you justify a rental free of P6 billion that would only ensure power supply for three months next year? Is it right for us to pay P6 billion when we only need additional generating power in three months? That cost is quite high,” Gonzales said.
“I have talked to Congressman Umali and we have a common understanding that whatever that nature of that emergency power would be, it should not result as an additional burden of the consumers,” he added.
Umali heads the House energy committee.
He and Gonzales are members of the ruling Liberal Party.
Instead of pressing Congress for emergency powers, Gonzales noted that the Energy department should just focus on accessing the consolidated power supply of private generating power plants such as malls, which would already be good for 1,000 megawatts.
“We don’t want the government to hastily provide fund, even if it is coming from Malampaya fund, because there are other existing resources available,” he said.
Former Bayan Muna Rep. Teodoro Casino, a convenor of the People Opposed to Unwarranted Electricity Rates (Power), said granting additional powers to the President is dangerous because such powers can be abused.
“Blanket powers for Aquino are dangerous. The emergency powers being requested by President Aquino from Congress to solve the projected energy shortfall appears vague, all-encompassing and therefore prone to abuse and corruption,” Casino warned.
Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) secretary general Renato Reyes Jr. agreed, noting that the request sent by Aquino to leaders of Congress lacked details, particularly how the emergency powers will be dispensed with.
“We are perplexed why the President did not even indicate the amount of additional capacity to be contracted out, how it will be acquired, the expected cost to taxpayers and consumers, nor the period involved. Without these things, there can be no intelligent debate on their proposal,” Casiño said.
“It’s as if the President wants blanket powers even more than what Congress gave then-President Fidel V. Ramos before,” he added.
Once given, Aquino’s emergency powers may authorize him to negotiate with private contractors and enter into onerous supply contracts.
This, Casino explained, may push up electricity rates to extreme levels.
But Palace spokesman Edwin Lacierda said parameters of the requested emergency powers will be given by Energy Secretary Jericho Petilla when he meets with leaders of the Senate and House of Representatives.
“The details will have to be filled up by Secretary Petilla. In fact, Sen. Franklin Drilon was asking [what are the parameters]of these emergency powers. So that will have to be discussed by the Department of Energy with both the House and the Senate,” Lacierda told a news briefing also on Wednesday.
He explained that it is Petilla’s job to determine contents of the joint resolution that will authorize the grant of additional powers for the President.
As the point man in dealing with problems pertaining to power, Petilla will weigh the “slew of options available,” Lacierda said.
He allayed fears that the situation may cause a repeat of the power crisis during Ramos’ time, when the government lost huge amounts of money to pay for exorbitant electric fees from various producers.