On parishes, prelates, power rates and pork

Ricardo Saludo

Ricardo Saludo

As the Year of the Horse gallops into the Lunar calendar, the national day-off in recognition of Filipino Chinese offers a respite to catch up with events of the past month which escaped this column’s commentary. Among the noisier, more colorful ones, in line with tonight’s dazzling fireworks across East Asia: the Meralco rate hike controversy, Malacañang’s word war with Senator Bong Revilla, and this week’s “pastoral exhortation” from Catholic prelates.

Let’s discuss the last one first. Next week this column will do a deep reflection on both the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines plenary meeting as well as Pope Francis’s first encyclical, Evangelii Gaudium (Joy of the Gospel). But it’s good to take a quick bite of the CBCP statement today.

Having issued statements last year on both the pork barrel controversy and the Visayas earthquake and super-typhoon calamities, the bishops conference devoted its January 27 message to the core principles underlying Christian faith, morals and living: the Gospel exhortation to love God and love one’s neighbor, especially the less fortunate. The title “To Bring Glad Tidings to the Poor” encapsulates the CBCP’s overarching call.

Adopt a poor parish
To which we respectfully add that the Church should lead by example. In particular, the hierarchy should consider launching an Adopt-a-Parish campaign pairing all parishes in wealthy communities with those in poor ones, with the former sharing their human and material resources to enrich church facilities, liturgical and instructional materials, and spiritual programs in less-endowed partner parishes.

This initiative would also advance Catholicism’s big 2014 initiative: The Year of the Laity. In their collaboration to uplift less fortunate parishes, both wealthy and poor communities would necessarily mobilize lay men, women and youth, as well as the financial resources of parishioners.

To be sure, there would be challenges aplenty in getting any community to devote time, talent and treasure to an unknown faraway parish. Many prominent laity and religious, even the parish priest, might oppose the program, preferring to focus efforts and expenditures on problems in their own community. Charity starts at home, they’d argue.

The archbishops and bishops should understand these arguments, but press for the Adopt-a-Parish scheme nonetheless. For if the Church cannot mobilize rich communities to care for needy ones, it would have little moral high ground and credibility in urging the nation “to bring glad tidings to the poor.” Charity must indeed begin at home —among the parishes of the Catholic Church.

Lowering power rates
After the evasive answers and finger-pointing over exhorbitant electricity charges on nationwide TV, here’s how to give consumers relief while letting entities responsible for the rate hike to bear the cost of lowering charges.

Based on the facts, the Power Sector Assets and Liabilities Management Corp. is largely to blame for the spike in spot-market prices. If PSALM had operated the 600-megawatt Malaya thermal plant as it had done during months of tight supply in past years, rates in power-scarce November and December would have been much lower. That would have spared consumers from mammoth pass-on charges in their Meralco bills. And trimmed the excessive profits reaped by generating companies in that period.

Since it is illegal to relieve Meralco of its contracted liabilities to power producers, and consumers are also obliged to pay all approved charges, even sky-high ones, the only solution other than generating companies writing off what Meralco owes, is to lower rates in coming months by operating the Malaya plant and selling its power cheap until the excess charges over the 2010-12 average for November-December, are offset.

If PSALM loses billions of pesos in giving consumers relief from exhorbitant bills, that’s exactly what it deserves for its gross negligence in idling its coal-fired plant amid power scarcity. And if power producers fall into the red due to spot-market rates undercut by Malaya’s discounted output, they can well afford it after their obscene bonanza in 2013.

Bottom line: let PSALM and private dynamos pay the price for excessive power charges by lowering rates with Malaya’s cut-price generation in coming months.

Trust me
Going by Pulse Asia surveys, seven out of every ten Filipinos trust President Benigno Aquino 3rd. These days he is asking those tens of millions of believers to accept his word, judgment and actions in the latest turn of the pork barrel scam.

He assures them it was not wrong that he lobbied senators to convict impeached Chief Justice Renato Corona. Aquino also claims he was merely countering efforts by unnamed groups to pressure the senator-judges, while also maintaining that nobody could possibly sway those “24 independent republics.” And this assertion of propriety is made even though the Palace took pains to conceal its lobbying.

The administration also insists that the release of tens of billions of pesos in pork barrel funds before and after the vote on Corona’s guilt, plus allocations from the dubious Disbursement Acceleration Program, was never meant to influence the verdict. Honest. Budget officials, including Secretary Florencio Abad, even deny making such releases, although DBM’s website lists them.

These latest assertions come on top of countless others: that there is nothing unconstitutional about taking funds from budgeted projects and spending the billions on outlays never even proposed in Congress; that none of the so-called Kaklase, Kakampi at Kabarilan coterie of Aquino associates have done anything deserving serious investigation and sanction, including their Priority Development Assistance Fund spending withheld from state auditors; that it is good governance to triple PDAF without augmenting anti-graft safeguards, then use the largesse in inducing lawmakers to pass pet bills and impeach constitutionally independent officials.

Maybe the righteous and truthful among us cannot stop these excesses. Maybe those pointing out Palace untruths and abuses would just be ignored by pro-Aquino politicians and media, especially lawmakers fearful of their pork records being exposed. And with cases mounting against ousted Chief Justice Renato Corona, maybe the Supreme Court could be pressured to shirk its duty of ruling promptly against unconstitutional acts.

At the very least, however, let those of us who value common sense and impartial truth and justice recognize a spade and call it so, even though most Filipinos purportedly agree with Aquino that it’s a spoon.

In today’s season of nationally televised lies, let us trust our own eyes.


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1 Comment

  1. It’s amazing, Batch, how you are able to create a “lumpsum” article containing multiple topics. This may not be something the SC would call unconstitutional due to “lumpsum” appropriations of issues. However, it would be a good idea to elaborate further on each topic to enlighten readers about what you mean e.g. by “Charity must indeed begin at home —among the parishes of the Catholic Church.” Do we should start telling the poor to go to Parish Churches so that they can have three meals a day for free while their income is insufficient for decent meals daily ? I would be very glad to proclaim that good news starting tomorrow, if the Parishes make that happen.