CHURCH SILENT ON GMA SONA

Manila, July 26, 2003 By Jose Aravilla And Donnabelle Gatdula (Star) The Archdiocese of Manila headed by Jaime Cardinal Sin has chosen to keep silent on its performance assessment of President Arroyo.

As the Chief Executive’s State of the Nation Address (SONA) draws near, Archdiocese spokesman Bishop Socrates Villegas refused to reveal their assessment of the President’s achievements.

"We have a direct line to the President. If we have anything to say to her we do not have to say it to the media," said Villegas after yesterday’s launching of the Archdiocese’s new website.

When asked if it is possible for him to share to the public their discussions with the President regarding her achievements, Villegas said: "You ask her. Because that will be a violation of her right to privacy."

Villegas, in his homily at the thanksgiving Mass held at the EDSA Shrine for the successive court decisions awarding to the government the disputed coco levy funds and the Marcos Swiss bank accounts, however, called for the full eradication of corruption in government.

"Fourteen years ago the Bishops issued an incisive pastoral letter that pointed out in detail the evil of corruption and how it could be fought and eradicated, it would seem nothing has changed," he said.

But other sectors, including organizations under the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, have given the President’s performance a thumbs down sign. The CBCP itself though did not issue a statement assessing the President.

For its part, the CBCP’s National Secretariat for Social Action-Justice and Peace (NASSA) said the Arroyo administration "failed to fulfill its commitment to substantially reduce electricity costs despite promises in her two earlier SONAS."

"CBCP-NASSA gives the administration a failing mark in this respect," according to their statement dated July 24.

This was the same assessment made by the National Association of Electricity Consumers for Reforms (Nasecore).

Nasecore noted that in her SONA last year, Mrs. Arroyo had listed her 10-point plan to reduce power rates.

This 10-point agenda includes reflecting the true cost of service in electricity rates, introducing price incentives to stimulate demand, optimizing the utilization of generation capacity to minimize cost and accelerating open access to give end-users the power of choice, strengthening electric cooperatives, seeking to reduce Independent Power Producers (IPP) contract costs, exploring financial engineering to promote consumer welfare to reduce stranded costs, and enhancing the Energy Regulatory Commission’s capability to promote consumer welfare.

"None of these were accomplished by President Arroyo. It would be prudent for her to be cautious in giving false hopes to the Filipino people so that she would not be judged for her performance," Nasecore president Pete Ilagan said.

Despite the lowering of the PPA charge of Napocor, the price of electricity in the Philippines is still among the highest in Asia.

Dick Echavez, head of Nasecore’s research team said that Meralco’s First Gas Power Corp. and Quezon Power Ltd. sell at an average of P4.21 per kilowatt-hour as compared to National Power Corp.’s (Napocor) rate of P2.46 per kwh.

The difference of P1.75/kwh, Echavez said, translates to a P15 billion windfall every year for First Gas and Quezon Power.

Nasecore legal counsel Manuel Chan said that for Mrs. Arroyo to keep her promises to consumers, her government should amend certain provisions of EPIRA, which are clearly anti-consumer.

"We highly recommend to the President to abolish the PPA which essentially is electricity not consumed but continued to be paid by consumers. The government should also stop paying over contracted capacities until such time that there is demand for it," Chan said.

With just two days left before she delivers her SONA on Monday, Mrs. Arroyo is reportedly now doing her sixth draft of the speech, Presidential Spokesman Ignacio Bunye said.

He disclosed that the President, who is personally drafting her speech, has been making revisions to include inputs from "selected" Cabinet members.

Bunye could not say what the SONA’s theme this year is but he cited the general message that Mrs. Arroyo wants to convey to the Filipino people.

"There are many things that we should be thankful for. There are developments in the peace efforts, these are very positive developments. There are targets that have been successfully completed, at least most of them," Bunye said. — With Marichu Villanueva


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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