NOY: GOVT LOOKING INTO BASIS OF POWER RATE HIKE

DECEMBER 14 -The government is looking into the basis cited by the Manila Electric Co. (Meralco) for raising electricity rates by more than P4 per kilowatt-hour, which the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) readily accepted. “The ERC is the sole entity. ERC does not report to us, they are independent from us. But we want to make sure that the basis for (the adjustment) was correct,” Aquino told Manila-based reporters here on Friday. “And right now there are doubts as to whether it was correct. We are not sure,” he added. The Department of Energy (DOE) led by Secretary Jericho Petilla will handle the investigation. Meralco cited the rise in generation cost for its steep adjustment in electricity rates of P4.15 per kwh.

ALSO:   Aquino says he has no power to stop power rate hike

DECEMBER 14 -In a chat over coffee with Filipino journalists covering his trip to Tokyo, the President said his hands were tied by a Supreme Court ruling barring the use of the Malampaya Funds for subsidies to power consumers. “There is Supreme Court ruling that emphasized that Malampaya Funds [are solely] for development of energy, and the distribution of energy might run afoul of that definition by the Supreme Court,” he said. “Now, I’m still having the lawyers look if it is at all possible to use Malampaya for the purpose of re-establishing all of these distribution lines. But so far, the initial advice… is that the latest Supreme Court definition does not allow it.” The fund cannot be used to repair power lines and transmission towers toppled by Supertyphoon Yolanda in the Visayas, he said.

ALSO: Noy vows justice in media killings

DECEMBER 15 -Amid concerns aired by international organizations, President Aquino has vowed to relentlessly pursue the perpetrators of media killings in the country. “We cannot promise that there will never be any shooting (or) killing of anybody. What we can promise is we will never stop in trying to come up with the suspects,” he told reporters here Friday night on the sidelines of the 40th Association of Southeast Asian Nations-Japan Commemorative Summit. Aquino said he is aware that justice delayed is justice denied even as he gave assurance that witnesses would be protected. “A crime or any crime for that matter you commit under this administration, we will (be) dead set to get you,” he said.

ALSO: More heads to roll on poll expenses’

DECEMBER 15 -More heads will roll among the winners in the May 13 elections who failed to comply with the law on campaign expenditures, the Commission on Elections (Comelec) said. Comelec Chairman Sixto Brillantes Jr. said they are still auditing the Statements of Contributions and Expenditures (SOCEs) filed by all elected officials and warned more winners could be cited if the audit reveals they had overspent during the elections. Brillantes on Thursday ordered 422 elected officials to vacate their posts for their failure to meet the SOCE requirements. “That was only the first stage,” Brillantes said. “What we determined there was who did not file their SOCE on time and who filed inappropriate SOCE,” he added.


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NOY: GOVT LOOKING INTO BASIS OF POWER RATE HIKE

TOKYO via Smart/PLDT, DECEMBER 16, 2013 (PHILSTAR)  By Aurea Calica  – The government is looking into the basis cited by the Manila Electric Co. (Meralco) for raising electricity rates by more than P4 per kilowatt-hour, which the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) readily accepted.

“The ERC is the sole entity. ERC does not report to us, they are independent from us. But we want to make sure that the basis for (the adjustment) was correct,” Aquino told Manila-based reporters here on Friday.

“And right now there are doubts as to whether it was correct. We are not sure,” he added.

The Department of Energy (DOE) led by Secretary Jericho Petilla will handle the investigation.

Meralco cited the rise in generation cost for its steep adjustment in electricity rates of P4.15 per kwh.

The scheduled maintenance shutdown of the Malampaya natural gas facilities as well as the “forced shutdown” of other key power plants had prompted Meralco to get its supply from other more expensive sources, including the Wholesale Electricity Spot Market (WESM). Headlines ( Article MRec ), pagematch: 1, sectionmatch: 1

Aquino said there was indeed damage to the geothermal plant in Leyte caused by Super Typhoon Yolanda and that supply was reduced to 100 megawatts from 500 or 600 megawatts.

He said that while the supply deficit had to be filled, maintenance of power plants should be scheduled and not done simultaneously.

“In this particular case, some were done simultaneously and we are checking if it’s all right. Were there changes in schedule or disruption of flow? I’m not ready to comment on exactly what led to this until Secretary Petilla is finished (with the investigation),” Aquino said.

“It’s hard to speculate. You commit to having your plant shut down on scheduled maintenance. You did not commit to that schedule, you disrupted the entire balance,” he said, adding that such anomaly or oversight could inflict “injury to the economy.”

Earlier, lawmakers said deliberate disruption of power plant operation is tantamount to economic sabotage.

But in case the DOE sees something wrong with the ERC’s action or inaction on the rate hike, Aquino said they would have to turn to Congress for help in addressing the matter.

“One more time, the ERC is not under us. We cannot order them,” he said. He added it could be possible that the damage to Leyte’s geothermal plant was due to force majeure.

Subsidy source

Aquino also said he does not see the possibility of tapping the Malampaya funds to subsidize electricity cost and the transport sector, saying there are legal impediments to using the funds for purposes other than energy development.

He also told reporters that his officials would try to determine whether it’s legal to use the President’s Social Fund (PSF) for the repair of typhoon-damaged power facilities. He said a Supreme Court ruling limits the use of the Malampaya funds to energy development projects.

“The PSF looks like an option but I am not sure if it can cover the whole amount,” he said.

Aquino said more than 200 transmission towers were damaged or knocked down by Yolanda.

“Now, I’m still having the lawyers look if it is at all possible to use Malampaya (funds) in the purpose of re-establishing all of these distribution lines. But so far the initial advice, and their study is quite extensive, it seems the latest Supreme Court definition does not allow it,” he said. “If you don’t follow the SC ruling, what will happen?”

The President said they were looking for ways to address concerns over rising electricity rates even as the National Grid Corp. of the Philippines is likely to request for higher rates from the ERC in order to recoup losses.

He said there is a provision in the presidential decree creating the PSF that allows the use of the fund for restoring damaged infrastructure.

“I might be paraphrasing. I might have overdone the paraphrasing and changed the intent. But that is how I understood it,” Aquino said.

He added Congress may have to review the law on Malampaya funds to find out if there is legal basis for using it for electricity subsidy or infrastructure rehabilitation.

Aquino also said he had instructed Petilla, Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr., Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, Budget Secretary Florencio Abad and the Office of the Chief Presidential Legal Counsel to review pertinent laws and find out if and how Malampaya funds could be tapped for a different power-related program.

Aquino said the government was able to provide subsidy to some members of the public transport sector when oil prices hit an all-time high due to conflicts in the Middle East about two years ago.

EPIRA review

In Manila, deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said Malacañang is open to Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr.’s call for a review of the Electric Power Industry Reform Act (EPIRA) in light of the rising electricity costs.

“As already expressed by (Presidential Communications Operations Office) Secretary (Herminio) Coloma, there is a need to look at this closely and thoroughly so we can see what needs to be amended,” Valte said in an interview with radio station dzRB. “We are open to such review.”

Valte noted that Aquino has ordered the DOE to see what can be done to ease the impact of higher power rates on consumers.

“The study is still ongoing with regard to the power rate hike so we can see what can be done to cushion its effects,” she said.

The EPIRA was enacted in 2001 as part of the efforts to reduce electricity rates and promote competition in the power sector.

More than a decade after the law’s implementation, electricity cost in the country remains prohibitive and considered one of the highest in the world.

Valte said consumer groups are free to go to court to contest the rate hike.

“When it comes to court action or any legal remedy, that is available to consumers or to anybody who has the legal standing to do so,” Valte said.

“We also understand such sentiments, so the President has given instructions to see what can be done,” she added.

At the House of Representatives, opposition lawmakers scored Petilla for downplaying the effects of the power rate hike and for allegedly defending power firms suspected of manipulating prices at the Wholesale Electricity Spot Market (WESM).

Petilla’s belittling the impact of the power plant shutdowns was “tantamount to saying that it is all right to have a cartel in the power sector and we just have to bear the burden when they collude to increase power rates,” Bayan Muna party-list Rep. Carlos Zarate said.

“Instead of defending the interest of consumers, the DOE is more active in protecting the profits of power producers and Meralco, a behemoth in the power industry and one of the country’s top corporations,” he said.

Citing studies by the Ibon Foundation, the lawmaker said that with only a few players controlling the industry, collusion is expected.

“Secretary Petilla should concentrate on how to lower power rates and not in being a spokesperson for the power cartel,” he said.

ACT Teachers party-list Rep. Antonio Tinio said three power producers dictated the price of electricity in the spot market from Oct. 26 to Nov. 25 – the Limay plant of Millennium Holdings Inc. owned by businessman Mike Valencia; and Therma Mobile and Bauang diesel power plant of the Aboitiz Group.

He said that from an average of P13.74 per kwh before the Malampaya shutdown, the spot price skyrocketed to an average of P33.22 per kwh over the past four weeks.

Zarate said under EPIRA, corporate profits are given priority over consumer welfare and economic development.

“The privatization and deregulation of the power industry is actually a boon only to the corporate players but a bane and a scourge to the people,” he said.

Aboitiz Power Corp., meanwhile, denied that subsidiary Therma Mobile benefits from WESM price movements.

“Therma Mobile is only paid the rate covered by its Power Supply Agreement with Meralco and does not benefit from the high market prices. This rate has provisional approval from the Energy Regulatory Commission,” AboitizPower president and chief executive officer Erramon Aboitiz said.

Meralco has full control of the use of the 100 MW from Therma Mobile, including pricing and volume offers to the WESM.

Meralco utilized the 100-MW capacity starting Nov. 12. The remaining 130 MW will be available by mid-2014 once a connection line is made available.

Meanwhile, a new coal-fired power plant is set to rise in Quezon province.

Chuckie Rivera, communications manager of Quezon Power Ltd. Co. which operates the Mauban power plant, said the new power plant would be run by San Buenaventura Power Ltd. Co.

“We are still working out the initial stage of engineering, procurement and construction process for this new power plant, which has almost the same equipment and processes in power generation, just like Quezon Power,” Rivera said.

“This new power facility will comply with the country’s environment standards and laws and will use engineering methods and operational standards to maintain and preserve the environment and the host community,” Rivera said. – With Paolo Romero, Iris Gonzales, Alexis Romero, Michelle Zoleta

Aquino says he has no power to stop power rate hike By Michael Lim Ubac Philippine Daily Inquirer 6:30 pm | Saturday, December 14th, 2013


Philippine President Benigno Aquino III, left, speaks as Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe listens during the joint press conference at Abe’s official residence in Tokyo, Friday, Dec. 13, 2013. AP

TOKYO – Giving the public respite from oil and power rate increases is not within the power of President Aquino to grant at this point.

In a chat over coffee with Filipino journalists covering his trip to Tokyo, the President said his hands were tied by a Supreme Court ruling barring the use of the Malampaya Funds for subsidies to power consumers.

“There is Supreme Court ruling that emphasized that Malampaya Funds [are solely] for development of energy, and the distribution of energy might run afoul of that definition by the Supreme Court,” he said. “Now, I’m still having the lawyers look if it is at all possible to use Malampaya for the purpose of re-establishing all of these distribution lines. But so far, the initial advice… is that the latest Supreme Court definition does not allow it.”

The fund cannot be used to repair power lines and transmission towers toppled by Supertyphoon Yolanda in the Visayas, he said.

As a last resort, Aquino he could use part of the President’s Social Fund for the restoration of power in Yolanda-stricken areas although he did not thnik there was enough left to cover the entire cost of restoring 250 transmission towers.

The government initially estimated the cost of repairs to reach P1 billion.

On suspending power rate increase, which took effect this month, Mr. Aquino pointed out that Energy Regulatory Commission, which approves power rate increases, was an independent body.

“ERC does not report to us, they are independent of us,” said Aquino.

The President said, however, he had some “doubts” about the reasons given for the power rate increase.

“But we want to make sure that the basis for it was correct. And right now there are doubts as to whether it was correct. It (maintenance work power plants) shouldn’t have happened in that manner—without alternative power sources,” he said.

The President has ordered the Department of Energy to check if certain power plant operators had colluded with one another to bring about an artificial shortage of electricity and thus hike its price.

The DOE is looking into this possible collusion among power plants that suspiciously shut down almost simultaneously last month, resulting in Meralco buying more expensive supply from the spot market.

He also noted that “spot prices” in the Wholesale Electricity Spot Market were “the highest they have ever been.”

“And you have to ask, ‘why did that happen?’ And the question has been asked even before I asked Secretary Petilla [to investigate],” the President added.

Aquino welcomed any move in Congress to pass a law that would allow the Malampaya Fund to be appropriated for repair of damaged power lines.

FROM PHILSTAR

Noy vows justice in media killings (The Philippine Star) | Updated December 15, 2013 - 12:00am 3 4 googleplus0 0

TOKYO (via Smart/PLDT) – Amid concerns aired by international organizations, President Aquino has vowed to relentlessly pursue the perpetrators of media killings in the country.

“We cannot promise that there will never be any shooting (or) killing of anybody. What we can promise is we will never stop in trying to come up with the suspects,” he told reporters here Friday night on the sidelines of the 40th Association of Southeast Asian Nations-Japan Commemorative Summit.

Aquino said he is aware that justice delayed is justice denied even as he gave assurance that witnesses would be protected.

“A crime or any crime for that matter you commit under this administration, we will (be) dead set to get you,” he said.

The delegation of the European Union in the country reminded the Philippines of the resolution of the European Parliament calling on the Philippines to take further measures to end impunity for extra-judicial killings, including the Maguindanao massacre, and bring the perpetrators to justice.

The EU delegation added that they take note of the assurances of authorities that the Philippine National Police will take immediate action to bring all those responsible for the killings to justice.

US Ambassador Philip Goldberg said he is also “deeply concerned” and “saddened” by the slaying of at least three journalists in just two weeks.

“The US supports press freedom and human rights,” he said.

Unidentified men shot dead Rogelio Butalid outside his radio station in Tagum, Davao del Norte on Wednesday, a few days after radio broadcaster Michael Diaz Milo was gunned down in Tandag, Surigao del Sur.

Motorcycle-riding armed men in Bukidnon gunned down radio commentator Joas Dignos on Nov. 29.

Other side of the coin

The President, however, said “the other side of the coin” must also be considered, citing the need to come up with a more “holistic approach” such that people would learn to settle differences civilly and not take the law into their own hands.

“But having said that, there’s still a crime committed regardless of the motivation, and these people would have to be brought before the bars of justice and government has not stopped doing that,” Aquino said.

He said the filing of charges should not be the measure of success as much as the conviction.

“Up to now we really want conviction that will send the message you do a crime you pay the price,” he said.

He said the government would also impose strict guidelines on the use of firearms to immediately pinpoint the suspects.

Aquino said “Oplan Katok” was implemented to account for firearms and their owners while a new gun law sets more stringent requirements before a private person could own guns.

“Everybody undergoes it and... the ballistics, it’s really going to fine-tune the system... to identify what firearm was used,” he said.

He said the prosecution of the Maguindanao massacre case is also expected to be faster with the increase in the number of judges.

Uphold rule of law

In Washington, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) called on the Aquino administration to uphold the rule of law and bring an end to “the killing spree of journalists” in the country.

“The killing of three journalists and shooting of another in two weeks painfully reaffirms the Philippines’ reputation as one of the most dangerous places in the world to be a reporter,” said Shawn Crispin, the New York-based CPJ’s senior Southeast Asia representative.

“Until the murderers of journalists are regularly brought to justice and the cycle of impunity is broken, the violence will inevitably continue,” he said.

“How many more journalists must be murdered before President Aquino’s government takes seriously the scale of his country’s impunity problem?” Crispin asked. – Aurea Calica, Pia Lee-Brago, Jose Katigbak

More heads to roll on poll expenses’ By Sheila Crisostomo (The Philippine Star) | Updated December 15, 2013 - 12:00am 3 122 googleplus0 0

MANILA, Philippines - More heads will roll among the winners in the May 13 elections who failed to comply with the law on campaign expenditures, the Commission on Elections (Comelec) said.

Comelec Chairman Sixto Brillantes Jr. said they are still auditing the Statements of Contributions and Expenditures (SOCEs) filed by all elected officials and warned more winners could be cited if the audit reveals they had overspent during the elections.

Brillantes on Thursday ordered 422 elected officials to vacate their posts for their failure to meet the SOCE requirements.

“That was only the first stage,” Brillantes said. “What we determined there was who did not file their SOCE on time and who filed inappropriate SOCE,” he added.

Brillantes said they have not determined who among the winning candidates have been truthful in declaring their campaign contributions and expenditures.

The 422 elected officials were ordered to vacate their posts for violating Republic Act 7166 or the Synchronized Election Law of 1991.

Brillantes said the poll winners cannot be considered to have validly assumed office unless they have properly filed their SOCEs.

He said the law was clear but lamented it was not implemented in previous elections.

Under the law, “every candidate and treasurer of the political party shall, within 30 days after the day of election, file in duplicate with the offices of the commission the full, true and itemized statement of all contributions and expenditures in connection with the election.”

This means the SOCE should have been filed by June 30. The Comelec also required that the documents be filed in prescribed forms with receipts attached and signed personally by the winning candidates.

Section 111 of the Omnibus Election Code also stated that “no person elected to any public office shall enter upon the duties of his office until he has filed the statement of contributions and expenditures herein required.”

The same law slaps a jail term of one to six years and disqualification to hold public office and removal of the right to vote on any person found guilty of an election offense.

Republic Act 7166, on the other hand, which was enacted six years after the implementation of the election code, provided specific penalties against those who failed to submit SOCE.

The newer law requires every candidate and treasurer of the political party to file in duplicate a full, true and itemized SOCE within 30 days after the day of the election. Failure to do so is punishable with a fine ranging from P1,000 to P3,000.

Subsequent violations of the provision on SOCE are punishable with fines ranging from P2,000 to P60,000 and perpetual disqualification from public office. There was no jail term mentioned in the newer law.

On Friday, Brillantes said failure to file SOCE should be slapped with imprisonment to force all candidates to comply with the law.

Brillantes lamented that candidates did not seem to take seriously the requirement to file the SOCE.

Malacañang said it would leave it up to Congress to decide on the Comelec’s proposal to impose stiffer sanctions against candidates who failed to file SOCEs. – With Alexis Romero


Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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