POSTSCRIPT / May 23, 2002 / Thursday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Taxpayers, not solons, to bear PPA burden

SOLONS’ PORK INTACT: Examine the remedial measures being considered in both chambers of Congress to ease the burden of the bloated purchased power adjustment(PPA) being collected from electricity users.

All the congressional bills entail sacrifices by us consumers, the PPA victims. The measures merely seek to shift the PPA burden from direct users to taxpayers, most of whom are also consumers.

Yet none of the bills requires politicians, particularly senators and congressmen, to shoulder part of the burden by giving up their excessive allowances and budgetary mechanisms, such as pork barrel, that fetch them dirty millions.

This despite the widely known fact that it was lack of funds (the treasury had been raided by grafters) that forced the government in the 1990s to enter into onerous contracts with independent power producers (IPPs) resulting in the PPA.

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WORRY ABOUT PPA LATER: After forcing the IPP contracts and PPA charges on us captive consumers, the politicians are back again — this time forcing us to accept remedial measures that do not strike at the heart of the problem.

Adding insult to injury, our lawmakers now want us to sweep the PPA dirt under the rug and worry about it later — three years from now according to the Senate, and much later according to the House.

Nowhere is it said in the Senate and the House bills that funds will be freed for the rehabilitation of the country’s power system by lawmakers’ unilaterally yielding their pork barrel and other funds habitually raided by grafters in government.

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DELAYING THE INEVITABLE: For their common survival, the politicians — from the President down — are merely trying to mollify the people by postponing their paying the PPA charges. As we said several Postscripts back, the politicians are merely delaying the inevitable.

The PPA is a necessary expense that we cannot escape (only how much it should cost and how it is to be collected are debatable). The politicians are just buying time to tame the storm threatening their privileged way of life. Their solution is to defer PPA payments and resume payments when the people’s temper has cooled a bit.

The irony is that we are actually a rich country. We have the wealth as a nation to cover, absorb or offset an expense like the PPA. The economic machine churns up enough business to raise sufficient tax money to sustain essential services and provide a fairly comfortable life to those who do honest work.

The problem is that much of this wealth is stolen by the same officials who had taken a solemn oath to enforce the law and look after our welfare. Now we have to bear the lingering effects of poverty worsened by continuing raids on the treasury by grafters.

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SOLONS CAN’T CAST FIRST STONE: We doubt if the Senate summons for former President Fidel V. Ramos to explain what went wrong with his handling of the power crisis during his term would yield conclusive proof of culpability.

No Senate committee will have the nerve to heap blame on a former president.

Not because FVR is blameless (we think he was at least negligent in not inserting enough clauses in the IPP contracts to protect public interest), but because when he was grappling with the power crisis he did not have the benefit of the hindsight that senators now have.

With the Bataan nuclear plant mothballed by the Aquino administration, we needed immediately to fasttrack the building and operation of power plants to meet at least the electricity needs at the time.

The basic problem, as we said earlier, was we did not have the money. The Ramos administration was forced to look for foreign investors. To lure them, FVR had to promise them heaven and earth.

The foreign-controlled IPPs that came in, about 40 of them, grabbed the heaven offered by FVR and left the earth to the natives.

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JUDGMENT CALL: As president, FVR had to make the difficult decision of building power plants in excess of existing demand. He went ahead and solved the crippling power crisis that sometimes threw the countryside into eight-hour blackouts.

The solution, however, spawned such problems as PPA charges doubling the basic charges slapped on end-consumers.

Suddenly we see around us a surplus of power plants, some of them operating below capacity and a few being completely idle — but all of them collecting payments just for being there! These payments, part of them built into the PPA, are at the heart of the raging debate.

In sallying forth, FVR was armed with emergency powers delegated to him by Congress. If he stuck to parameters of the powers granted him, we think he cannot now be blamed by Congress.

If Congress did not exercise due diligence before granting him emergency powers and neglected to oversee his management of the power crisis, we think the responsibility for the PPA and related problems must be shared by the legislature.

A legislative inquiry with FVR testifying before it would then look like a reunion of that political cabal that must take collective blame for the power mess.

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SIMILAR SCENARIO FOR TOURISM: The power situation facing FVR in the 1990s was similar to, although not exactly the same as, a perceived need for hotels and allied facilities for an expected tourism boom.

If we have a severe lack of five-star hotel rooms for quality tourists and foresee increased arrivals in the near future, do we build strings of luxury hotels right away or do we wait till the tourists descend on us by the millions before we start building?

Sizing up the situation, the president or his tourism industry manager may decide — with the help of Congress — to offer concessions to big-time operators, many of them belonging to foreign chains. The incentives are meant to convince them to build luxury hotels here in anticipation of the boom.

The problem is if the projected tourist arrivals do not materialize. There will be empty luxury hotels all over. Then we start hearing pointed questions about foreign operators of empty hotels still cashing in on the incentives offered them to locate here.

Do we hang the president or the tourism industry manager for this eventuality that he failed to foresee?

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OVERPASSES SAG DANGEROUSLY: Before a major accident occurs, will somebody please ban heavy trucks and trailers from using the two overpasses on Roxas Blvd. (at G. J. Puyat Ave. and EDSA intersections)?

It seems there is a ban already in effect since we do not see overloaded trucks and vans during the day. But the same behemoths roar up and down the overpasses late in the evening and nobody checks on them.

It’s obvious to motorists, but the authorities seem not to have noticed that on both overpasses, part of the pavement has sagged, sending vehicles bouncing dangerously as they negotiate the dips. The sag is getting worse by the day because of the overloading.

The sagging beams may not be able to take the punishment of overloaded trucks and trailers and give way any moment. Is there something basically wrong with the design or the construction of the overpasses? Will somebody please check?

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of May 23, 2002)

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