ENERGY CHIEF PETILLA's OFFER TO QUIT SCOFFED AT

Critics see the brouhaha over Energy Secretary Carlos Jericho Petilla’s offer to resign as a “self-inflicted wound,” as he never really promised to reenergize all typhoon-ravaged communities in the Visayas by Christmas Eve. All Petilla promised was to reconnect the towns to the power grid, his critics and even his defenders said on Thursday. As for the homes, there were few to reenergize because Supertyphoon “Yolanda” (international name: Haiyan) flattened entire communities in the Visayas, they said.

ALSO: Aquino rejects Petilla resignation

President Benigno Aquino III on Thursday rejected the resignation of Energy Secretary Carlos Jericho Petilla. During a meeting at the Malacanang Palace, Aquino convinced Petilla to remain as head of the Department of Energy, amid his decision to quit after failing to restore electricity in some towns devastated by Supertyphoon “Yolanda” (international codename: Haiyan). “The President did not accept the resignation, cognizant of the fact that according to original estimates, it would take three to six months to restore power in town centers, considering the extent of the damage caused by Supertyphoon Yolanda,” Presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda said in a statement. He said not only was the Luzon-Visayas connection down, but a major geothermal plant in Leyte had shut down. Generation, transmission and distribution lines were also down because of the calamity. The Palace lauded Petilla’s accomplishments despite his inability to ensure the electrification in all towns affected by “Yolanda.”

ALSO: In typhoon’s wake, Christmas infused with tragedy in Leyte

Christmas lights blink in a handful of restaurants in Tacloban, but at nightfall, much of this city destroyed by Supertyphoon “Yolanda” (international name: Haiyan) slips into darkness. A few downtown shops have reopened. Roadside vendors peddle fruits of the season: oranges and red apples. There is rebuilding, though much of it consists of residents hammering shelters out of scavenged debris and plastic sheeting provided by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other aid agencies. Soon after the storm, Energy Secretary Carlos Jericho Petilla promised to restore power by Christmas Eve or resign, and indeed, electricity has returned to nearly all of the more than 300 towns that lost it. But relatively few people are able to use it. Officials say many storm-ravaged houses and shops will spend the holidays in the dark because their wiring systems are damaged. The City Hall, a seaside hilltop complex surrounded by ruins, buzzes with typhoon relief work, with dozens of staffers and foreign aid workers busy on the phone or huddled in talks. mostly, Christmas was a celebration amid deprivation, in tents, makeshift homes and damaged churches. The smell of death remains in parts of the city. Thousands of people have simply left. “Many of them, I know, prefer not to spend it here,” Romualdez said. “Maybe a change of scenery first and then come back after the holidays.”

ALSO: Petilla clarifies appeal on TRO amid criticisms

Appealing the Supreme Court’s temporary restraining order (TRO) on the planned electricity rate hike of more than P4 per kilowatt-hour is an option the Manila Electric Co. (Meralco) and power generators can take if they can’t absorb rising generation costs to ease consumers’ woes, Energy Secretary Carlos Jericho Petilla clarified yesterday even as lawmakers and militant groups castigated him for giving the advice. Petilla issued the clarification after The STAR quoted him as urging Meralco to appeal the 60-day TRO issued last Dec. 23 by the High Tribunal. Petilla said Meralco would really have to raise rates to recover costs and operate efficiently and that the TRO was only delaying it. “I will respect the TRO. I am asking them (Meralco and the power generators) to absorb the cost but if they cannot, they can appeal it if they want to,” Petilla told The STAR. He said he was not taking sides but was only looking for ways to cut costs for the benefit of consumers.


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Petilla quit offer scoffed at


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President Aquino with Energy Secretary Carlos Jericho Petilla. INQUIRER FILE PHOTO

MANILA, DECEMBER 30, 2013 (INQUIRER)  By Leila B. Salaverria, Michael Lim Ubac - Critics see the brouhaha over Energy Secretary Carlos Jericho Petilla’s offer to resign as a “self-inflicted wound,” as he never really promised to reenergize all typhoon-ravaged communities in the Visayas by Christmas Eve.

All Petilla promised was to reconnect the towns to the power grid, his critics and even his defenders said on Thursday.

As for the homes, there were few to reenergize because Supertyphoon “Yolanda” (international name: Haiyan) flattened entire communities in the Visayas, they said.

As expected, President Benigno Aquino III rejected Petilla’s resignation on Thursday, but the militant women’s group Gabriela said the President should really keep him so he could be held accountable for the P4.15 per kilowatt-hour power rate increase that Manila Electric Co. (Meralco) imposed on its 5.3 million customers in Metro Manila and surrounding provinces just before Christmas.

According to Malacañang, Mr. Aquino commended Petilla for restoring electricity to the communities in the Visayas ravaged by Yolanda last month.

Petilla met with the President behind closed doors in Malacañang and offered to resign for failing to meet his self-imposed Christmas Eve deadline to reenergize all 320 towns flattened by the typhoon on Nov. 8.

As of Dec. 24, three of the 320 towns still had to be reenergized.

Presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda said in a statement that the President rejected Petilla’s resignation because it had been originally estimated that it would take three to six months to restore power to the communities because of the great damage caused by Yolanda.

“The Luzon-Visayas connection was down, the major geothermal plant in Leyte was also down and generation, transmission and distribution lines were down,” Lacierda said. “In the face of these challenges, the accomplishment of Secretary Petilla speaks for itself.”

‘Excellent performance’

Lacierda said Petilla managed to restore power to the communities in roughly 40 days and “within that period he was able to energize 317 of the 320 affected towns, leaving 0.93 percent still to be [reenergized].”

“By any measure, this is an excellent performance. The President noted that foreign observers who had seen the work being done in the Visayas, and in comparison to disasters of lesser magnitude in other countries, pointed out that the repair and rehabilitation of energy infrastructure was done faster,” Lacierda said.

“For all these reasons, the President, in rejecting Secretary Petilla’s offer to resign, reiterated that he had no intention of losing the services of an honorable public servant,” he said.

At an earlier news conference in the Palace, there were no indications from administration officials that Mr. Aquino was letting go of Petilla, a former governor of Leyte province whom he picked in October 2012 to replace Rene Almendras as head of the Department of Energy (DOE). Almendras has since been moved to the Office of the President as Cabinet secretary.

Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma told reporters that he did not see any immediate change in the DOE, as Petilla traveled with the President on Sunday and that the transcript of their meeting contained nothing derogatory to the energy chief as far as the restoration of electricity to the calamity areas was concerned.

Coloma also made it clear that Petilla had been helpful to the President and to the Cabinet.

Meralco rate hike

Before Malacañang announced the rejection of Petilla’s resignation, militant groups said offering to resign for failing to restore power to all 320 towns ravaged by Yolanda did not absolve the energy secretary from responsibility for the record-high increase in power rates that Meralco began to implement just before Christmas.

Gabriela Rep. Emmi de Jesus said Petilla should be called to account for the P4.15/kWh power rate increase that Meralco had planned to enforce in three phases but was temporarily stopped by the Supreme Court on Monday.
For failing to stop that rate increase, De Jesus said, Petilla should be investigated by Congress.

The labor coalition Nagkaisa also believed Petilla was equally responsible for failing to stop Meralco from increasing its rates.

But Petilla’s offer to resign underscored what his deputies, who play key roles in the supervision of the energy market, had not done, Nagkaisa said.

The group said Energy Regulatory Commission Chair Zenaida Ducut and Philippine Electricity Market Corp. chief Mel Ocampo should resign.

Being on the front line, Nagkaisa said, Ducut and Ocampo are supposed to be the first to detect market failure and protect consumers’ welfare, but they did nothing as Meralco imposed the first phase of the rate increase this month.

“They therefore should go,” Nagkaisa said in a statement.

Ducut and Ocampo should also be investigated for possible economic sabotage, the group added.

Nagkaisa said Ducut and Ocampo had known about the scheduled maintenance shutdown of the Malampaya gas pipeline but did nothing to prevent economic repercussions.

ACT Teachers Rep. Antonio Tinio, however, believed Petilla should stay on the job and set a new date to reenergize all of the calamity-stricken communities.

Petilla should also keep going after those who had allegedly conspired to raise electricity prices, Tinio said.

“He must pursue to the end the DOE investigation into the price manipulation among private power producers and collusion with Meralco that led to the unprecedented power rate hike. There should be no whitewashing or backtracking there,” he said.

Petilla must also proceed with his plan to reform the rules of the Wholesale Electricity Spot Market to curb the excesses of the private power producers, he added.

Pete Ilagan, president of the National Association of Electricity Consumers for Reforms Inc., one of the consumer associations fighting Meralco’s power rate increase in the Supreme Court, said Petilla should not resign for failing to deliver on his promise.

Ilagan said Petilla was “a man of his word.” He said he hoped President Aquino would not accept Petilla’s resignation.

No drama

Sen. Grace Poe said President Aquino should keep Petilla, since the energy chief managed to restore power to most towns ravaged by Yolanda.

Besides, Poe said, “[we] need continuity and organization. If Petilla is removed now, we can expect further delays in the rehabilitation process.”

Sen. Vicente Sotto III praised Petilla for keeping his promise to resign if he failed to meet his Christmas Eve deadline.

“He’s a man of his word,” Sotto said.

But Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV said he was baffled that some officials would offer to resign instead of submitting “irrevocable resignations.”

“I don’t really get all these resignation offers. If you truly believe you failed to accomplish your mission, then you resign irrevocably. No drama!” Trillanes said.

‘We are not bionic’

Maria Rosario Avestruz, general manager of the Leyte II Electric Cooperative (Leyeco), defended Petilla, who she said promised only to reconnect the towns to the power grid.

Reenergizing homes is not Petilla’s job, she said, as that is the responsibility of the power cooperatives.
That is not an easy job because of the extent of the damage from the typhoon, she said.

Avestruz said Leyeco itself had restored power service to only two percent of its 35,000 customers in Tacloban City because of the many downed electric posts and damaged wiring in buildings and homes.

“We are not bionic [that we can] immediately restore power to the houses,” Avestruz said. “But we are doing everything we can to energize our coverage areas.” With reports from Christine O. Avendaño and TJ A. Burgonio in Manila, and Joey Gabieta, Inquirer Visayas

Aquino rejects Petilla resignation By Kristine Angeli Sabillo INQUIRER.net 4:20 pm | Thursday, December 26th, 2013


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Energy Secretary Jericho Carlos Petilla. RYAN LEAGOGO/INQUIRER.net

MANILA, Philippines – President Benigno Aquino III on Thursday rejected the resignation of Energy Secretary Carlos Jericho Petilla.

During a meeting at the Malacanang Palace, Aquino convinced Petilla to remain as head of the Department of Energy, amid his decision to quit after failing to restore electricity in some towns devastated by Supertyphoon “Yolanda” (international codename: Haiyan).

“The President did not accept the resignation, cognizant of the fact that according to original estimates, it would take three to six months to restore power in town centers, considering the extent of the damage caused by Supertyphoon Yolanda,” Presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda said in a statement.

He said not only was the Luzon-Visayas connection down, but a major geothermal plant in Leyte had shut down. Generation, transmission and distribution lines were also down because of the calamity.

The Palace lauded Petilla’s accomplishments despite his inability to ensure the electrification in all towns affected by “Yolanda.”

“First, from his original target of six months he was able to restore power in roughly 40 days. Second, within that period, Secretary Petilla was able to energize 317 out of 320 affected towns, leaving 0.93% still to accomplish,” Lacierda said.

He called the energy secretary’s performance “excellent,” adding that even foreign observers pointed out that the repair and rehabilitation of energy infrastructure in Visayas was fast compared to those in other countries faced with disasters of lesser magnitude.

“For all these reasons, the President, in rejecting Secretary Petilla’s offer to resign, reiterated that he has no intention of losing the services of an honorable public servant,” the spokesperson said.

In typhoon’s wake, Christmas infused with tragedy in Leyte 5:22 am | Thursday, December 26th, 2013


STILL DARK CHRISTMAS IN TACLOBAN: Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images

TACLOBAN CITY, Philippines—Christmas lights blink in a handful of restaurants in Tacloban, but at nightfall, much of this city destroyed by Supertyphoon “Yolanda” (international name: Haiyan) slips into darkness.

A few downtown shops have reopened. Roadside vendors peddle fruits of the season: oranges and red apples.

There is rebuilding, though much of it consists of residents hammering shelters out of scavenged debris and plastic sheeting provided by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other aid agencies.

The Nov. 8 typhoon killed more than 6,100 people, displaced at least 4 million others, and left its most gruesome mark on Tacloban, a city of 220,000 that will need years to recover.

Soon after the storm, Energy Secretary Carlos Jericho Petilla promised to restore power by Christmas Eve or resign, and indeed, electricity has returned to nearly all of the more than 300 towns that lost it.

But relatively few people are able to use it. Officials say many storm-ravaged houses and shops will spend the holidays in the dark because their wiring systems are damaged.

The City Hall, a seaside hilltop complex surrounded by ruins, buzzes with typhoon relief work, with dozens of staffers and foreign aid workers busy on the phone or huddled in talks.

“I am hoping by a year you’ll see some significant improvements,” Mayor Alfred Romualdez said. But he’s not sure when his city will fully bounce back.

Christmas Day Mass was celebrated by the papal envoy. There was a Christmas Eve dinner for foreign aid workers and local officials.

But mostly, Christmas was a celebration amid deprivation, in tents, makeshift homes and damaged churches. The smell of death remains in parts of the city. Thousands of people have simply left.

“Many of them, I know, prefer not to spend it here,” Romualdez said. “Maybe a change of scenery first and then come back after the holidays.”

Body bag

Fire Officer Rolando Unay gently lifts a black cadaver bag left on a roadside by villagers in Tacloban City. “It’s a child,” he told his team of corpse collectors.

As their orange dump truck cruises along a main road adorned with Christmas trees, motorists and passers-by cover their noses.

More than six weeks after the typhoon struck, leaving well over 2,000 people dead in Tacloban alone, this sad work continues.

Soldiers, police, firefighters and volunteers have cleared what had been a heartbreaking landscape of bodies strewn across the ruined city, but the stench in scattered mounds of debris means there are more left to find.

Unay, a doting grandfather with five children, says that although the work is difficult he sees the good in it.

“Every time I lift a child’s body, I could feel that the agony of a parent, a family somewhere, is about to end,” he said on Friday.

At a corner, a distraught fisherman, Hubert Labanan, waves at Unay’s truck to stop. He points to the remains of his mother by the roadside. Villagers found her remains under a pile of wood and other debris that they cleared while preparing to repair a house.

Holding back tears, Labanan tells Unay’s crew that he had lost his own home in the storm and was too poor to bury his mother in a cemetery. He begged that she be taken to a mass grave.

As Unay’s team left with his mother’s remains, Labanan waved goodbye, then stood motionless until the orange truck vanished from his sight.

Bubble burst

In early November, Eledio Moro thought he had Christmas figured out. He was going to surprise his 2-year-old daughter, Aubrey, with a pink toy motorbike. For his wife, a gold bracelet, or maybe an expensive Western-brand shirt.

He owned a restaurant and a money-lending business. His new house was one of the grandest in the poor coastal neighborhood. Last year, he draped it with the best and brightest Christmas lights.

“We worked hard and were doing well then suddenly, like a bubble that burst, I lost everything,” he said.

Like many in Tacloban, Moro ignored an order from authorities to evacuate as the typhoon approached, thinking his house could withstand the storm.

He and his family were huddled by the staircase when a cargo ship, swept inland by the massive storm surge, smashed into the house, knocking them into the water.

He survived by grabbing a piece of bamboo. Now all that is left of his home is the staircase, a wall and a second-floor balcony beside the huge, steel-hulled ship, still stuck by the road.

Moro, 41, now lives with his sister. Sleeping tablets have helped him get through the worst of the past six weeks, he says.

On Christmas, he planned to visit the graves of his wife and his daughter, “to ask for forgiveness for not having been able to save them.”

Mass wedding

Although its roof got blown away by Yolanda’s wind and it became a burial ground for dozens of typhoon victims, the Roman Catholic cathedral in Palo, near Tacloban, hosted a festive event a day before Christmas: the mass wedding of 98 couples.

Originally scheduled for 147 couples on Nov. 16, the wedding was postponed when the monster storm struck, damaging the church’s interior, breaking its stained glass windows and scattering its pews.

A smaller number registered for Tuesday’s ceremony, apparently because the other couples left the region after the storm, said Msgr. Bernie Pantin, who officiated the wedding.

“I praised them for their strong faith whatever happens,” Pantin said.

Workers draped the roof with tarpaulins ahead of Christmas but part of the altar still got wet from a downpour later Tuesday. Archbishop Giuseppe Pinto, the papal envoy to the Philippines, was to celebrate a Christmas Eve Mass at the damaged cathedral.

Thriving resto

At night in Tacloban’s dark and dreary downtown, Joseph Bonavitacola’s restaurant is filled with chatter, mostly of foreign and local aid workers. His brick oven hardly gets any rest.

Red Christmas lanterns, lights and decor adorn window panes and a brick wall at Giuseppe’s, which has the ambiance of fine dining.

It’s hard to imagine how the Italian businessman, who has lived in the city for 20 years with his Filipino wife, reopened the place less than three weeks after Yolanda devastated about 4,000 businesses. Only about 5 percent have reopened, officials say.

“The water was about this high,” Bonavitacola said, pointing to the chest-high wooden cashier counter. “The bar was down. The chiller was by the door. The doors were broken. There was lots of mud. Everything was upside down.”

Frightened by a jailbreak and looting, he left for Manila with his family but returned after three days to start a massive cleanup with 20 employees. He fixed damaged equipment and got supplies from another branch of his restaurant.

Despite a power outage, he reopened Nov. 24 with candlelit tables. His message, exclaimed on a big sign outside: Rise Tacloban.

He also owns 10 meat shops that were inundated, and has begun to reopen them, keeping prices at pretyphoon levels.

Outside his crowded restaurant, armed policemen stand guard. Most nearby shops remain shut.

“We try to make it feel as normal as possible,” says Bonavitacola’s wife, Catheryn. “Because outside, it’s still depressing.” AP

FROM PHILSTAR

Petilla gets drubbing, clarifies appeal on TRO By Iris Gonzales (The Philippine Star) | Updated December 29, 2013 - 12:00am 4 130 googleplus1 4


PETILLA

MANILA, Philippines - Appealing the Supreme Court’s temporary restraining order (TRO) on the planned electricity rate hike of more than P4 per kilowatt-hour is an option the Manila Electric Co. (Meralco) and power generators can take if they can’t absorb rising generation costs to ease consumers’ woes, Energy Secretary Carlos Jericho Petilla clarified yesterday even as lawmakers and militant groups castigated him for giving the advice.

Petilla issued the clarification after The STAR quoted him as urging Meralco to appeal the 60-day TRO issued last Dec. 23 by the High Tribunal.

Petilla said Meralco would really have to raise rates to recover costs and operate efficiently and that the TRO was only delaying it.

“I will respect the TRO. I am asking them (Meralco and the power generators) to absorb the cost but if they cannot, they can appeal it if they want to,” Petilla told The STAR.

He said he was not taking sides but was only looking for ways to cut costs for the benefit of consumers.

He stressed it is up to Meralco to appeal the TRO if it wants to.

“I am balanced,” he said.

He said Meralco and the power generators may consider splitting costs so that consumers would not have to shoulder them.

Meralco earlier announced plans to raise electricity rates by P4.15 per kilowatt-hour, citing a surge in generation cost from P3.44 per kwh to P9.10 per kwh.

Amid public uproar over the staggering rate increase, the SC issued a TRO before Christmas to stop Meralco from implementing it for 60 days to allow oral arguments on the petitions against the rate hike.

For lawmakers, Petilla’s giving legal advice to Meralco is uncalled for.

“Meralco is a multibillion-peso company. Its net profits are in the tens of billions. It can therefore protect itself and does not need legal advice from Secretary Petilla,” Rep. Elpidio Barzaga Jr. of Dasmariñas City, Cavite said.

“Secretary Petilla is not Meralco’s legal adviser, and therefore his act of telling the company to file a motion for reconsideration is not only amusing but perplexing,” he said.

He said if there’s anyone who needs government protection, it’s the 5.3 million customers of Meralco who are mostly poor people.

Reversing position

Barzaga pointed out that by giving the advice, the DOE chief in effect was asking Meralco to reverse its pronouncement made through spokesman Jose Zaldariagga that it would comply with the TRO.

He added that despite inquiries from senators and congressmen, the power distributor had not presented documents to support is petition to recover P22 billion in increased cost of procuring electricity from its suppliers.

Bayan Muna Reps. Neri Colmenares and Carlos Zarate said Petilla appears to be protecting the interest of Meralco and power producers instead of that of consumers.

“We are now wary that the DOE-ERC investigation on the alleged collusion of power generators may be whitewashed. With Petilla’s statement, it is clear that he views the extremely high power rate hike as above board and regular, and its approval by ERC as correct,” he said.

“He does not even question if the computation for the increase is right. Secretary Petilla is practically preempting the Supreme Court and is siding with the power cartel,” he said.

Zarate said he is disappointed with the DOE chief’s statement, which he said was tantamount to betrayal of consumer interest.

The two Bayan Muna representatives also expressed confidence that they would win their SC case against Meralco and ERC.

“We think that the SC will declare EPIRA (Electric Power Industry Reform Act of 2001) unconstitutional precisely because it violates the right of consumers to due process. It does not allow them to question rate increases,” they said.

For his part, Alliance of Concerned Teachers Rep. Antonio Tinio said Petilla preempted his own investigation into alleged collusion among power producers and “exposed it as a sham with a predetermined conclusion.”

“He is also preempting the Supreme Court, which is yet to rule on the petitions questioning the constitutionality of the unprecedented rate increase,” he said.

Fisherfolk alliance Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya) also lashed out at Petilla for giving legal advice to Meralco.

“The chief of the energy department is acting like the chief legal adviser of Meralco. It is doing the legal defense work for Meralco and the rest of the ruling syndicate in the power sector and this is highly contrary to public interest,” Pamalakaya said in a statement.

“His appointment as secretary of DOE is really meant to protect the power monopolies at the expense of electric consumers and the public perpetually battered and exploited by high cost of electricity across the nation,” the group said.

“This protégé of President Noynoy Aquino should be compelled to leave the energy post,” said Pamalakaya vice chairman Salvador France.

“The resignation of Secretary Petilla is necessary because he betrayed public trust and he was extremely obsessed to protect the narrow interest of electric cartel and syndicates in the country,” France argued. With Jess Diaz, Michelle Zoleta


Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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