POSTSCRIPT / September 30, 2004 / Thursday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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But who will probe legislative probers?

COMPUTER PLAN: In her last State of the Nation Address, President Arroyo promised among many other things a computer in every public school. A computer in every school looks pathetic to me, but, okay, one is better than zero.

Yesterday, Malacanang issued a press release announcing the launching of a “People’s PC Program,” described as the country’s “first personal computer ownership program to make available affordable, high-quality PCs to more Filipinos.”

This is a cooperative effort of Intel Technology Philippines Inc. and the Philippine Commission of Information Communication and Technology (CICT). With the President standing as witness, Intel country manager Ricky Banaag and CICT chairman Virgule Pena signed yesterday a memorandum of understanding on the project.

The press release said some 30,000 elementary and 5,000 high schools throughout the country would be sold desktop computers at P15,000 or less apiece. (For a while there, I thought Intel was donating the units, or some of them.)

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IF IT BLINKS?: Such a marketing move has its good points, but personally I would rather that instead of — or in addition to — selling completely built computers to public schools, we should teach senior students how to assemble, maintain and trouble-shoot units themselves.

Pardon my skepticism, but I fear that many of those computers might just end up in the principal’s office — mainly for display or occasional word processing — and be rendered unserviceable in just a few weeks or months.

When the PC refuses to boot or blinks out, what will the principal, or his secretary, or the handyman do?

I suggest that Intel consider providing vital parts for PC assembly and repair courses to be conducted as applied arts in public schools. The students taking the course could then maintain and repair the school computers (plural, not singular) that they themselves had assembled.

One who has the aptitude can learn computer assembly in just one rigorous day. It could take one month in the case of students with only an hour to spare each day.

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PEOPLEWARE: Aside from assembling and tending to the hardware, the student-trainees would be prepared to handle situations arising from software problems, to troubleshoot.

The setup, if you notice, is not just computers. Aside from the computers (the hardware), there is the software (who will provide this since Intel is just into hardware?), and “peopleware” (whom I am suggesting we train from among the students).

With this integrated training problem, we can assure our schools of a continued supply of do-it-yourself computers and a corps of stand-by technicians.

When they leave school, the same students will be ready to take advance courses or earn on the aside servicing computers.

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MODUS OPERANDI: We cannot blame the lawyer deploring in a recent TV show what she called the “pattern” of some members of Congress threatening or actually conducting an investigation allegedly to coerce public or private firms and individuals to grant some favors. 

Lawyer Estrella Elamparo of the Government Service Insurance System made the observation while discussing the reported use by Iloilo Rep. Rolex Suplico of an inquiry allegedly to pressure a big foreign investor to buy a property of his wife’s family for the “atrociously high” price of P175 million.

An attorney for the GSIS since 2001, Elamparo said that she saw a pattern that if the “target” of the investigation accedes to the demand, the investigation is not pushed through. Otherwise, she said, the investigation is pursued.

Elamparo reported that GSIS president and general manager Winston Garcia has submitted evidence to the Ombudsman to back his anti-graft complaint against Suplico for allegedly using a congressional inquiry for coercion.

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PROBING PROBERS: Presumably as part of his defense against charges of Suplico and some congressmen that he had mismanaged the GSIS, Garcia accused the lawmaker of coercing Kimberly-Clark Philippines Inc. into buying for P175 million an area owned by Suplico’s wife.

Garcia said that Kimberly Clark refused earlier to buy the property where it had built a power plant because of its “atrociously high” price. Besides, Kimberly Clark still had a lease on the site.

But after Suplico filed a resolution to investigate Kimberly Clark’s water permit, and after other alleged harassing tactics, Garcia said, Kimberly Clark capitulated and bought the property. Suplico’s wife, Ma. Theresa Cancio-Suplico, reportedly signed as witness to the sale.

As expected, the congressman has denied the charges.

The House leadership must look into such an alleged “pattern” — which is widely talked about — and tighten the ground rules for congressional inquiries to prevent their being used for harassment and extortion.

We say this without meaning to imply that Garcia’s charges against Suplico have basis.

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LOPSIDED PRICING: In the Senate, information gather in another legislative inquiry gives clues to why electricity rates have soared and why the National Power Corp. only sinks deeper into more losses as it tries wiggling out of the red ink. 

The data as shared by Sen. Ralph G. Recto showed that a Navotas power barge under contract with the government charges the latter P899 per kilowatt-hour which the Napocor sells to its customers for P2.4002 per kwh! Wow!!

In La Union, the same data show, a private diesel plant sells power at P13.36 to Napocor that, in turn, sells it at only P2.1031 per kwh, which is the rate set by the Energy Regulatory Commission.

Another one, the San Roque hydroelectric plant, bills the government P18.31 for every kilowatt hour it produces.

This is an unusual way of doing business, but that is precisely the way things have been at Napocor since somebody with an unlit cigar opened the gate to a horde of independent power producers scrambling for sweetheart deals.

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PAYING FOR UNUSED POWER: The figures were culled from records submitted by Napocor to the Senate on the actual cost of power as generated and sold by 24 operational independent power producers.

Recto said that the billing records of the 24 IPPs for the first half of the year showed that all of them are selling power to the Napocor at rates higher than what the latter is selling to its customers.

Citing the Navotas Gas Turbine 4, mentioned above, that generates power at a cost of P899.37 per kwh, the senator noted:

“The 100-megawatt plant had an average dispatch rate of less than one percent of its contracted capacity in the month of June — yet we paid for 99.2 percent of the contracted power which was never used.”

Under IPP contracts, Napocor pays on the basis of the rated capacity of the plant, whether the IPP actually produces that power or not. Napocor also pays on the basis of the rated capacity regardless of whether it takes or not whatever power is generated.

Recto also explained that actual cost of power is the sum of “purchased power cost ” and “fuel cost.” Standard IPP contracts provide that the government, through Napocor, shoulders fuel expenses.

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SELLING AT A LOSS: Based on the rates approved by ERC, selling price of Napocor is always lower than actual cost of power. This forces Napocor to book as losses the negative difference between selling price and actual purchase price charged by IPPs.

“The Purchased Power Cost and other charges levied by IPPs to the Napocor -­ and eventually to consumers — illustrate the high price the country pays for contracted power,” Recto said

“It also shows the high price Napocor pays for dollar-denominated contracts which appreciate in value as the peso declines,” he said. “More than the PPA, this is the killer provision that makes IPP power more expensive.”

He said the increasing cost of foreign exchange appears to be the culprit in Napocor’s present predicament.

This is compounded, he added, by the fact that “in the panic to bring the country out of the dark during the power crisis of the early 1990s, the contracts bore provisions that made government assume all risks in IPP operations.”

He said Napocor produces cheaper power in their organic plants but that “their bottomline is dragged down by the IPP obligations that hang like an albatross round Napocor’s neck.”

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of September 30, 2004)

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