MANILA – Against data that belie the supposed need for emergency powers, the lower house of Philippine Congress approved Wednesday December 10 House Joint Resolution No. 21 granting President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III emergency powers.
Consumer group POWER (People Opposed to unWarranted Electricity Rates) immediately criticized the decision. “It is like giving the President a bazooka to kill a fly when all that is needed is a fly swatter,” said former congressman and POWER Convenor Teddy Casiño in a statement. But whether there is even a fly to be killed remains questionable to this day.
In the past months as the energy department pushed for the granting of emergency powers at the same time it was in talks for contracting costly power supplies, it has repackaged its public justification for emergency powers from ‘looming power shortages” to just “thinning reserves.”
Still, its latest packaging, the so-called ‘maximum projected shortfall’ of 1,004 MW, according to the Department of Energy, and as adopted by the House, “presupposes something that has never happened before,” said Casiño. For the shortfall to happen, power plants in Luzon will suffer forced outages of 712 MW everyday during peak demand periods and 642 MW everyday in May.
House Speaker Sonny Belmonte defended their approval of the nearly year-long call for emergency powers by the Aquino administration, citing their projected power shortage and the people’s ire when that happens.
From the original estimates of the Department of Energy and the National Grid Corporation of the Philippines (NGCP), there is enough supply to meet peak demand. If reserves thinned, Casiño said, it can be addressed by measures already available without resorting to emergency powers. For example, he cited the energy efficiency programs and the interruptible load program (ILP), which do not require emergency powers.
More ‘emergency’ worries
As the consumer group POWER warned, aside from allowing the President to subsidize ILP participants, House Joint Resolution No. 21 allows various agencies to disregard regular bidding procedures and enter into negotiated procurement of power supply and equipment. It also exempts owners of power plants and other facilities from environmental laws and industry regulations in order to fast track their projects.
“The resolution includes unlimited presidential power to suspend pertinent laws on energy industry,” said the anti-corruption youth alliance Youth Act Now in another statement.
If the emergency power sought by the Aquino administration becomes law and binding, it may grant President Aquino powers to use around P4 billion to P10 billion ($90.9 million to $227 million) from the Malampaya fund to cover power-generation operations, said Victor Villanueva, conveneor of Youth Act Now.
But these sums of money will not resolve the power crisis, said Youth Act Now. On the contrary, they fear it will only enable the Executive to enter into public-private partnership contracts and to bloat and malverse public funds.
All in all, the House Resolution is seen as enabling lots of ways in which the power industry players could rake it in bigger while majority of the population pay for the party..
“The contrived power shortfall has become a pretext to subsidize malls and commercial establishments for their power consumption through the ILP, for government agencies to forego public bidding via blanket approval of emergency purchases, and for power industry players to skirt environmental laws and industry regulations. All this at the people’s expense,” stressed Casiño.
POWER called on the Senate to vote against the joint resolution on emergency powers.