Last Thursday, PNoy turned down the resignation of Department of Energy (DOE) Secretary Jericho Petilla, who vowed to step down from his post if he failed to fully restore power to Yolanda-hit towns before Christmas. According to Presidential Spokesman Edwin Lacierda, Petilla’s performance was “excellent,” adding that the Energy Secretary “was able to energize 317 out of the 320 affected towns, leaving 0.93 percent still to be accomplished.”
We don’t know where the Palace based its rosy assessment. What we do know, however, is that it’s very different from what many folks in Eastern Visayas are still experiencing.
Christmas came and went yet more than 2,600 barangay still remained in the dark. Of the barangay that were supposedly “100-percent energized,” many only had a few hours of electricity a day because of the limited capacity of active power plants in the area.
Those “minor details,” of course, doesn’t matter to Petilla, who, a day before Christmas Eve, was quick to pat himself on the back saying that he was able to meet his self-imposed deadline in providing energy to typhoon-hit areas in the Visayas.
Although he made a quick turnaround a day later after it was reported that there were still three towns left “unenergized,” we’re pretty sure Petilla knew he was never really at risk of losing his job.
More of PR than principle
Handing over his resignation to PNoy was more of a public relations stunt than a principled decision. After all, if he really wanted to quit, he would have submitted an irrevocable resignation just as former Customs Commissioner Ruffy Biazon did.
The Palace, on the other hand, was only too eager to play along with the sarzuela especially after the Yolanda debacle. If it accepted the Petilla’s resignation, it would be an indictment (and confirmation) of the Aquino administration’s continued shortcomings.
Perhaps this is also why Malacañang was willing to overlook Petilla’s more serious blunders. For instance, electricity prices have spiked to an all-time high during Petilla’s watch.
While it is Petilla’s job under the Epira law (RA 9136) to “ensure the reliability, quality and security of supply of electric power,” it appears that Petilla was caught sleeping on the job by the simultaneous “forced shutdown” of eight power plants, suspiciously coinciding with the scheduled shutdown of the Malampaya gas facility.
The shutdowns forced the three natural gas power plants in Luzon—which supplies some 40 percent of the island’s power supply—to use more expensive diesel fuel. Moreover, the emergency outages of several other generating plants led to tighter supply and higher prices at the Wholesale Electricity Spot Market (WESM), the country’s trading floor for electricity.
While Meralco usually buys around five percent of its requirements from the WESM, the “coincidental shutdown” of key generating plants forced the power distributor to purchase approximately 11.5 percent from the trading floor last November. This has led to a record increase in the generation charge—a pass-through component of the Meralco bill that goes directly to power suppliers—that will be paid by ordinary consumers.
Although Petilla admits that the chances of several generating plants suddenly having an outage are “really remote,” he already downplayed the impact of any alleged collusion among power plant operators as “minimal.” Petilla adds that even if there was collusion, it will only reduce the price increase by as much as 10 centavos.
Apparently, for Petilla, it’s okay for power generation companies to rig the electricity market and engage in illegal (and anti-consumer) practices as long as they moderate their greed. Susmariosep!!
And before the probe of power suppliers can be concluded by DOE, Petilla appears to have prematurely absolved power plant operators of any liability, claiming that their alleged connivance would be difficult to prove.
Petilla’s seeming bias (and powerlessness) towards the big players in the energy industry is not surprising.
IPO delayed or denied
Take the case of long-delayed initial public offering (IPO) of Pilipinas Shell Petroleum Corporation (Shell), one of the Big Three oil majors in the country.
Under the Oil Deregulation Law (RA 8479), oil refiners like Shell should have made “a public offering through the stock exchange of at least ten percent of its common stock” as far back as 2001.
For the past thirteen years, however, Shell—now under the helm of country chairman Edgar Chua—has successfully eluded this IPO requirement using the same tired, old excuse on DOE: That it was either “reviewing” or “finalizing” the study on the upgrade of its Tabangao, Batangas refinery.
It’s obvious that Shell has no fear or scruples about flouting the law because it can. Thanks to Petilla, who it seems is not a bit unperturbed letting things slide.
Given Petilla’s track record, it’s no wonder many folks are confounded—not at PNoy’s decision to reject the former Leyte governor’s resignation— but at why he didn’t ask for his resignation sooner.