(STAR) Malacañang welcomed yesterday a proposal to grant emergency powers to President Arroyo in order to address the power crisis.

Deputy presidential spokesperson Charito Planas said Mrs. Arroyo would consider the proposal of Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez, a member of the opposition, to call a special session of Congress and declare a state of emergency in Mindanao.

Planas said the President would study the proposal, but stressed that Energy Secretary Angelo Reyes was already looking into the situation and finding ways to address it.

Planas also echoed the statement made by the President’s son, Pampanga Rep. Juan Miguel Arroyo, that the grant of special powers should only be considered “as a last resort.”

“The suggestion of Congressman Rodriguez was very good considering that he is with the opposition,” Planas said. “Let us allow the President to decide if she would accept that offer to grant her emergency powers.”

Planas emphasized that the government is on top of the situation and assured the public that the Luzon and Visayas regions would not suffer the same problems as Mindanao.

Crossing party lines

Rodriguez’s proposal was met with enthusiasm by Mrs. Arroyo’s allies at the House of Representatives.

“I support the move to grant President Arroyo emergency powers to solve the energy crisis and the energy need for the election automation,” said Deputy Speaker for Mindanao Simeon Datumanong, backing up the suggestion of Rodriguez to hold a special session for both houses of Congress in order to solve the energy crisis.

The 440-megawatt predicted power shortage for the month of May is one compelling reason for the special session.

National Grid Corp. of the Philippines (NGCP) systems director Carlito Claudio told the House committee on energy Thursday that Mindanao may face a shortfall of four megawatts on May 10.

The other day, Reyes said the power crisis is real and not part of a scenario-building ploy of the administration to disrupt the May elections.

He, however, gave assurance that the administration would see to it that there would be uninterrupted power supply for the country’s first automated polls in May.

He said the consensus among Mindanao leaders is the immediate acquisition of power barges as a short-term measure. The country relied on power barges during the power crisis in the 1990s.

Zamboanga del Sur Rep. Antonio Cerilles, chairman of the House special committee on land use, said the special emergency powers will help the President undertake immediate and necessary measures to effectively address the energy problem.

Cerilles said it is also high time that government seriously consider the use of nuclear energy, which he described as clean, cheap and sustainable. “Nuclear energy should seriously be considered especially by local government units which want to host it,” he said.

“The energy crisis in Mindanao justifies a need for Congress to hold a special session to grant emergency powers to the President. Such powers will help her act with dispatch to ensure implementation of vital measures to solve the energy crisis,” said Cebu City Rep. Antonio Cuenco.

“Our national interest is at stake here so we must help the President deal with the energy problem with utmost urgency through the granting of emergency powers,” said Cuenco, chairman of the foreign affairs committee.

“But the energy crisis has been projected. It’s time for government to act with urgency to resolve it. Giving the chief executive emergency powers will certainly equip her with the necessary powers to effectively deal with it,” said Bulacan Rep. Reylina Nicolas, vice chairperson of the committee on trade and industry.

Critical Mindanao

Officials of NGCP - an attached agency of the Department of Energy - posed no objection to the proposal of Rodriguez and said it was up to Congress to extend such powers to the chief executive.

“We’re going to ask Malacañang to declare a state of emergency and call for a special session (regarding this power crisis). We are all suffering in Mindanao. Twelve (12) million votes will not be counted because of this problem,” Rodriguez said in his motion, which was lauded by Ilocos Norte Rep. Roquito Ablan, an administration stalwart.

Claudio told the committee that there will be no power outages in Luzon and Visayas on election day, but vote-rich Mindanao would be “critical” due to a four-megawatt power shortage in the region on the same day, or two to three-hour blackouts.

He said the lack of power is borne out of Mindanao’s “full dependence” on hydro plants generated by the Agus complex and worsened by the El Niño.

He, however, said that this deficiency will be covered by the 50-megawatt power that may be provided by the embedded generators of private individuals - whom Reyes is currently courting - and 30 megawatt from Iligan diesel.

“If all the additional megawatts are available, then there will be no power shortage in Mindanao,” he said. The total required power needed to quell power outages is 140 megawatts for the whole of Mindanao for the whole month of May.

No need for emergency powers

However, the idea of giving the President emergency powers did not sit well with Makati Mayor Jejomar Binay.

Binay, president of the United Opposition (UNO) and running mate of former President Joseph Estrada, said Arroyo is already armed with enough powers to address the crisis.

“If powers to be granted to her will allow her to create enough rain to fill Mindanao’s hydroelectric dams, then I am for it. If it will serve as an amulet that will give her superpowers to drive away El Niño, then let her have it. With 52 percent of Mindanao’s energy requirements sourced from drought-hit dams, then the solution lies in having more downpours in order to raise the water level in these dams. If this is the solution, then the purported presidential emergency powers are as effective as a rain dance,” Binay said.

He said if the powers mulled for Mrs. Arroyo would merely empower her to enter into supply contracts with small power generator providers, “then such authority is already lodged with the Secretary of Energy.”

Section 71 of the Epira Law allows the National Power Corp. (Napocor), chaired by the Energy secretary, to generate, operate, lease power to consumers and the private sector. Epira refers to the Electric Power Industry Reform Act of 2001.

“Clearly, you don’t need presidential emergency powers to invoke this. If a flotilla of power barges will be contracted to shore up Mindanao’s power reserves, then their commissioning does not depend on the grant of extraordinary powers to the President. There are enough rules governing this type of procurement,” Binay said.

He said cushioning the impact of the rotating blackouts on communities and industries in Mindanao “can be effected by Mrs. Arroyo without resorting to legislative grant of additional powers to her.”

“If mitigation will be in the form of spending, then there is the presidential contingent fund in the budget which she can tap. In fact, she can divert allocations in the budget to programs that will help victims and businesses affected by the power outages,” Binay said.

The opposition leader also recommended the emergency purchase of standby power generators for Mindanao hospitals.

“You can purchase one without the need for presidential emergency powers,” Binay said.

If it is invoked, Binay said red tape in government transactions cannot be used in justifying the grant of emergency powers to Mrs. Arroyo.

Conditioning the mind

But two senatorial candidates are looking at a more sinister plot behind the projected power crisis.

During yesterday’s “No Holds Barred” forum at the National Press Club (NPC), Ilocos Norte Rep. Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. and Gilbert Remulla hinted that the present administration might be conditioning the minds of the public that power outages may happen during the elections.

Marcos also raised doubts about the looming water and energy crises.

“Is this deliberate as they are planning to do some maneuverings during elections?” he asked.

He added that the possible power crisis being floated by the government would raise doubts as to the plans of the Arroyo government during elections.

Remulla also aired the same concern but expressed hope that the blackout will not last for more 12 hours since the standby battery to be used by the Commission on Elections (Comelec) for the automated machines would last for only 12 hours.

“But it is also good that they said there could be a brownout during elections,” said Remulla, noting that this could serve as a warning to everyone to watch over their votes.

Marcos said the rotating blackouts being experienced in several parts of the country could develop into a full-blown power crisis if not handled properly.

He said the government agencies tasked to provide solutions to these blackouts should think out of the box.

“The situation will serve as a litmus test of the sincerity of the government in implementing full automation in the forthcoming polls,” Marcos added. “You cannot help but wonder about the timing of it all.” - Delon Porcalla, Ding Cervantes, Jaime Laude, Jose Rodel Clapano, Sandy Araneta

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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