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PNoy cool to emergency power proposal to solve energy, transport crises

Reuters file photo of President Benigno Aquino III.
The online news portal of TV5

(UPDATED) MANILA, Philippines - President Benigno Aquino III is cool to the proposal to grant him emergency powers to address the looming increase in power rates as well as the problem of lack of mass transit systems in Metro Manila and neighboring provinces.

Secretary Herminio Coloma, head of the Presidential Communications Operations Office, said such proposal "has not been discussed by the President with his Cabinet." 

"Right now, the President's focus is his directive for the continued search for concrete measures to ease the burden of the public because of the very high increase in power rates," Coloma said in an interview over state-run Radyo ng Bayan on Sunday.

He said Malacañang would just wait for the ruling of the Supreme Court on the petitions filed against the P4.15 per-kilowatt-hour power rate hike of the Manila Electric Company (Meralco).

"Yaman din lamang at diringgin pa po ng ating Korte Suprema ‘yong mga oral argument patungkol sa posisyon ng iba’t ibang partidong may partisipasyon sa kasong ito, hihintayin na lang po natin ang ganap na paglalahad ng mga posisyon, at ‘yong magiging kapasyahan ng ating Korte Suprema," Coloma s

[Given the fact that our Supreme Court will hear the the oral arguments pertaining to the different positions of concerned parties in this case, we will just wait for their positions and the decision of the Supreme Court.] 

On December 23, the high court issued a 60-day temporary restraining order on the power rate increase, which took effect immediately. 

Two days ago, Meralco warned of rotating blackouts in the summer months as the high tribunal’s TRO threatens to disrupt the overall power supply chain.

“With the TRO in place, it will not be far-fetched to imagine that some generation companies might altogether refuse to sell electricity to Meralco or decide to sell to Meralco only such amount of electricity as is commensurate to the resulting rate of P5.6673 per kilowatt-hour (kwh),” Meralco said in its  230-page “consolidated comment with counter-petition” on the TRO.

“Either way, the insufficient power supply will result in rotating blackout, particularly during the summer months, which historically drive up the demand for electricity,” it added. 

Coloma said what is important is for the government to focus on the situation to concretize its determination to ensure the welfare of the public affected by the hike. "Ang mahalaga po dito ay ‘yung ating patuloy na pagtutok sa sitwasyon upang maisa-kongkreto po ‘yung determinasyon ng ating pamahalaan na pangalagaan ang kapakanan ng mga mamamayan hinggil sa isyung ito." 

Department of Energy Secretary Jericho Petilla is now talking with Meralco and its power producers amid fresh threats of rotational brownouts if the rate hike does not push through, according to Coloma. 

Eastern Samar Rep. Ben Evardone, an ally of the President, earlier urged Congress to take the "bold move" of granting the President emergency powers.

"Congress should study the possibility of granting President Aquino emergency power to deal with two catastrophic problems confronting our country today – the rising cost of power and the lack of mass transit in Metro Manila and neighboring provinces," Evardone said.

But Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. immediately doused water on the idea.

"(The President) has not even asked for it," Belmonte said.

Justifying the need for emergency powers, Evardone, a member of the Liberal Party, said "people are getting impatient and are now seeming hopeless."

"We cannot afford a business-as-usual approach in dealing with these twin mega problems. It has been proven that palliative solutions to these problems have very little impact," he added.

Meanwhile, Sen. Fracis “Chiz” Escudero said Congress should be cautious in giving emergency powers to a chief executive as this might just repeat what had happened during the Ramos administration.

Escudero said the emergency powers given in 1992 to then President Fidel Ramos resulted in higher electricity rates.

“The last time we gave emergency power was to former President Ramos at kinalabasan natin noon ay IPP (Independent Power Producers) and PPA (Power Purchase Agreement) na siyang dahilan kung bakit napakataas ng halaga ng kuryente sa bansa,” he said.

[The last time we gave emergency power was to former President Ramos and it resulted in IPP and PPA, the reasons why power rates in the country are high now.] is the online news portal of TV5, which is chaired by Manuel V. Pangilinan, also chairman of Meralco.