PHILSTAR: RESIGNATION IS NOT THE ANSWER

The offered resignation of Department of Energy (DOE) Secretary Jericho “Icot” Petilla was, as expected, rejected by President Benigno “Noy” Aquino lll. Petilla put on the line his Cabinet post when he made a self-imposed deadline by Christmas eve to fully restore electricity in the Yolanda-ravaged areas. The super typhoon cut off the entire power supply in Leyte, Samar, and the rest of the provinces it crossed last November 8. Given the enormity of devastation wrought by Yolanda, power industry experts earlier estimated it would take about three to six months to restore normal supply.  Lately, the public is being warned about the return of blackouts due to possible power shortage. Petilla himself admitted he is “not happy” about the 7 percent growth of the Philippine economy as this will put pressure on power supply. We can’t help but suspect a new zarzuela in the making. Resignation is not the answer to a developing problem. A politico worth his words like Petilla should make sure such problem should not come to pass.


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Resignation is not the answer



AQUINO AND PETILLA

MANILA, DECEMBER 30, 2013 (PHILSTAR) COMMONSENSE By Marichu A. Villanueva (The Philippine Star) | Updated December 27, 2013 - 12:00am

The offered resignation of Department of Energy (DOE) Secretary Jericho “Icot” Petilla was, as expected, rejected by President Benigno “Noy” Aquino lll. Petilla put on the line his Cabinet post when he made a self-imposed deadline by Christmas eve to fully restore electricity in the Yolanda-ravaged areas.

The super typhoon cut off the entire power supply in Leyte, Samar, and the rest of the provinces it crossed last November 8. Given the enormity of devastation wrought by Yolanda, power industry experts earlier estimated it would take about three to six months to restore normal supply.

Petilla vowed the DOE would try its best to restore electricity sooner than expected. He promised to bring back electricity service to all 320 Yolanda-hit municipalities by December 24.

This was ten days after Yolanda struck. Petilla was besieged with complaints that the relief and rescue operations were being hampered by no electricity service in these areas. Out of the blue, Petilla publicly declared he would resign if there would be no electricity in even just one municipality.

During a media interview while he was in Palo, Leyte, Petilla was quoted as saying, ”Do you want my position if I don’t make it by December 24? You will have it…. I’ll submit my resignation if that is what you want.”

Come Christmas eve, he was told at least three Yolanda-affected municipalities have yet to be energized. There was no way he would back out on his words. He did not wait a minute longer. Petilla announced he would resign as promised. In fact, he added, he would personally deliver his resignation letter to President Aquino at Malacañang on the first working day after the Christmas holiday.

Actually, the energy secretary was being melodramatic about his resignation offer. No one even asked for it, anyway. In our street language, we say: “nagkahiyaan na.” He will lose face if he does not resign.

As it turned out, however, Petilla’s resignation was not an irrevocable one. A well calculated risk for a man who has honed much of his experience in public service as governor of Leyte for three consecutive terms before he joined the Aquino Cabinet in November last year.

But by submitting his voluntary resignation, Petilla showed he is a man of his word. Only a few politicians have palabra de honor.

To his credit, Petilla has the balls to take it upon himself for missing the target 100 percent completion on the set deadline. For all intents and purposes, the DOE is not doing this task by its lonesome. There were other government agencies involved in this enormous task like the National Electrification Administration (NEA), aided by the private sector like the National Grid Corp. of the Philippines (NGCP). So why would Petilla assume all the responsibility?

When our energy reporter got in touch with him last Wednesday, Petilla was already told about our exclusive story from President Aquino himself who said he “has no intention of accepting” the offer of resignation. Still, Petilla stuck to his guns and retorted: “I will have no word of honor if I stay on and in public service, word of honor is extremely important.”

Other than this drama behind Petilla’s resignation bid, we are missing the more important matters on power supply. While he was busy trying to meet his self-imposed deadline, the DOE chief missed attending the Senate and House hearings on the raging issue of the all-time high power rate hikes of the Manila Electric Co. (Meralco).

The public hearings by Congress were set into motion following public indignation over Meralco’s P4.15 per kilowatt-hour (kwh) rate increase.

At the House public hearing, Petilla sent in his stead one of his deputies who aired DOE suspicions of apparent “collusion” among power industry players to artificially push power rates up. The suspicions arose when eight privately owned power plants shut down and went into unscheduled maintenance.

The shutdown came at a same time that the Malampaya natural gas facility was undergoing previously scheduled preventive maintenance. The eight plants supply electricity for distribution by Meralco. With Malampaya out as a cheap source of fuel, Meralco was forced to buy its supply from the more expensive fuel-fired plants at the Wholesale Electricity Spot Market (WESM).

Since the information about possible “collusion” came from DOE, the agency has obviously been keeping a close tab on this while the industry’s chief regulator, the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) has not lifted a finger.

The DOE secretary took the initiative to bring together the power industry players and appealed to them to help Meralco to at least spread over a three-month period the proposed P4.15 per kwh increase. The DOE chief reportedly also prodded power companies to cut their profit margins to help bring down costs of power.

Like deux ex machina, the Supreme Court (SC) on Monday issued a temporarily restraining order (TRO) stopping for 60 days Meralco’s record-high power rate hike. This effectively enjoined the ERC to suspend its ruling allowing Meralco to increase electricity rates. The SC will conduct its oral arguments on the petitions against the Meralco rate hike on January 21.

The Department of Justice (DOJ) stepped into the picture and announced they will do their investigation into the alleged “collusion” in the power industry. The DOJ will look into possible violation of anti-trust laws, particularly restraint of trade and unfair business practices.

The SC ruling came after the first tranche of Meralco rate hike was already charged in this month’s billing. So it’s no longer covered by the TRO. While the two other tranches of the Meralco rate hike will be held in abeyance for now, this should not give us any relief at all.

In fact, we should be wary. Lately, the public is being warned about the return of blackouts due to possible power shortage. Petilla himself admitted he is “not happy” about the 7 percent growth of the Philippine economy as this will put pressure on power supply.

We can’t help but suspect a new zarzuela in the making. Resignation is not the answer to a developing problem.

A politico worth his words like Petilla should make sure such problem should not come to pass.


Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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