POSTSCRIPT / June 20, 2002 / Thursday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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Attack on GIs to sting US to bigger war role?

PPA CUT BY P1.26/KWH: Check your electricity bill for June. Remember, the Manila Electric Co. (Meralco) said the PPA (purchased power adjustment) starting this month would be cut by P1.26 per kilowatt hour — from P3.30/kwh last month to P2.04/kwh. There may be slight variations depending on your usage bracket.

The PPA decrease is broken down as follows: 36 centavos/kwh cut by Napocor; 50 centavos cut by Meralco; and 40 centavos cut by Quezon Power and First Gas, the IPPs (independent power producers) of Meralco.

The reduction was ordered by President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, who told the National Power Corp. (Napocor) to lower its PPA charges to Meralco by 40 centavos/kwh. Napocor lowered its PPA charges to Meralco by 40 centavos effective May 8 but raised some other charges — resulting in a net reduction of only 36 centavos/kwh.

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MERALCO REFUND STOPPED: Aside from the current PPA going to its power suppliers, the Meralco was also collecting from consumers what it called “deferred PPA” amounting to 50 centavos/kwh as reimbursement of some “under-recoveries” or PPA payments that Meralco had made to Napocor and its smaller IPPs.

The Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) ordered Meralco last April from adding this deferred PPA to electricity bills and collecting it. Although it already paid this PPA to its power suppliers, with Napocor getting the bulk, Meralco complied with the order.

Meralco has challenged the legality of the ERC order, saying that the cease and desist order was void ab initio because it was issued without notice and hearing, contrary to law.

At the time the order was issued, ERC and Meralco were still discussing the computation of PPA “under-recoveries” in the amount of P12.3 billion. Meralco computed its PPA claims under the formula prescribed by the Energy Regulatory Board (ERB), the forerunner of the ERC.

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CHEAPER POWER SUPPLY: The Napocor must be credited for allowing Meralco’s IPPs — Quezon Power and First Gas — to run at higher and optimum levels. Since these two IPPs sell power to Meralco at prices lower than that of Napocor, Meralco realized savings that it has passed on to consumers as a reduction of 40 centavos/kwh.

Previously, Quezon Power and First Gas were not able to supply more power to Meralco at lower prices because Napocor, which controls the power grid, would not allow them to operate at higher capacities and transmit bigger volume. Napocor cited “transmission constraints.”

The immediate cut by 40 centavos/kwh in the cost of electricity sourced from Quezon Power and First Gas validates Meralco’s point that the more power it buys from its IPPs, the lower the PPA.

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NAPOCOR FIXES RATES: We’ve been talking of a lower PPA charge this June. What about next month? Will the PPA decrease of P1.26/kwh stay?

President Arroyo had said that the 40-centavo cut in the PPA charge was good for two months, so July is still covered — assuming her order stays. After July, what happens?

For its part, Meralco said it will continue deferring the collection of PPA “under-recoveries” in the amount of 40 centavos/kwh until the ERC’s cease and desist order is lifted. That could take some time.

Obviously, Meralco’s bill after this month will also depend on how much Napocor will charge Meralco for electricity sourced from it and the volume of cheaper power that Napocor will allow Quezon Power and First Gas to sell to Meralco.

Napocor remains as the biggest determinant of how expensive or how much cheaper will be the electricity distributed in the Meralco franchise area.

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FPJ AS RAMBO: Instead of being fielded as opposition presidential candidate in 2004, action star Fernando Poe Jr. should be sent, a la Rambo, to wipe out the Abu Sayyaf on Basilan and wherever he could trace them.

All he would ever need is his reliable Thompson submachine gun and a leading lady. While FPJ normally terminates the enemy in a running time of a little over two hours, to eliminate the Abu Sayyaf, we can allow him two months.

We can replace his Thompson, an overworked World War II relic, with a lighter M-16 rifle but with the same characteristic of never needing any reloading despite intermittent sustained firing.

Upon his return to Manila, mission accomplished, FPJ then proceeds to collect the $5 million promised by the US government for the capture (if not annihilation) of Abu Sayyaf leaders.

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IDIOCY OF TERRORISM: Better rush the FPJ action before the US forces deployed on Basilan beat him to it. Just the other day, the GIs finally got to fire at terrorists who harassed American Seabees building a barrio road some 10 kms out of the capital town of Isabela.

The incident illustrates the idiocy of terrorism. Our Muslim brothers complain of lack of facilities and essential services where they live. Now here is a road being built for them for free and gunmen come around and harass the construction team.

The road project also illustrates the shared recognition by the Philippine and the US governments that poverty or underdevelopment is the twin of terrorism. It’s obvious but it bears repetition that poverty can breed terrorism and terrorism can exacerbate poverty in a self-feeding cycle.

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DEEPER U.S. INVOLVEMENT: How will the US government react to the attack on the GIs and the probable stepping up of harassment of Americans helping address terrorism and poverty in the South?

The two extremes are either the US government (1) pulls out or phases out its military involvement in the Basilan campaign, or (2) is driven deeper into the Balikatan joint exercise that serves as cover for its anti-terrorism operations here.

We have never seen the US government running away from a good fight, or prematurely terminating its commitments just because of hostile fire on its military personnel. We think that the Abu Sayyaf is mistaken if it thinks it can drive away the GIs by shooting at them.

On the other hand, will hostile fire — which we think will claim some American lives eventually — sting America enough to upgrade its combat role to wrench out their tormentors?

There are no indications yet of the direction that US involvement will take, but we think the Abu Sayyaf may have provided the excuse for more active combat duties for American forces.

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WANING U.S. INTEREST?: Actually, we have been watching for hints that US interest in the Abu Sayyaf problem has started to wane with the liquidation of the Burnham hostage problem. Missionary Martin Burnham was killed and his wife Gracia was saved, although wounded, and has gone home to her family in the States.

With the two American hostages out of harm’s way, will the US still have as much reason and enthusiasm as before to get involved in tracking and wiping out the Abu Sayyaf?

War could be tiring, especially for the American youths tramping through the jungles of Basilan thousands of miles away from the comfort of home.

But the complexion of American involvement could take an ugly turn the moment US soldiers start getting killed or wounded. This is a clear possibility and the Americans themselves are psychologically prepared for it.

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NEW HOSTAGES (YAWN): Now the Abu Sayyaf has gone on to take more hostages, this time four Indonesian officers of a tugboat towing a barge full of coal across the Sulu Sea to Cebu.

This development should normally make us sit up, but it seems that hostage fatigue has set in on us. We saw the big hostage story yesterday, complete with color pictures, but we just yawned and flipped the page to the Business section.

If indeed the victims this time were Indonesians, that may be a welcome development — in a perverse way of looking at bad news — if only for its possibly stoking the anger of our big neighbor at these high-seas kidnappers with whom they have religious affinity.

When Malaysians (among other foreigners) were kidnapped in the Sipadan resort and taken across the sea to Basilan the other year, the caper took on an international color with the Philippines bearing the brunt of rescuing the hostages and explaining the impasse to the world.

Now Indonesian hostages were reportedly taken to Sulu, presaging a minor repeat of the Sipadan story. But somehow, it did not have as much impact on us. It feels like hostage fatigue, indeed.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of June 20, 2002)

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