POSTSCRIPT / July 30, 2006 / Sunday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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Is it Enchanted Kingdom, Fantasyland, or NeverLand?

NAKAHIHIYA!: This washing of dirty linen, this noisy quarrel over money for evacuating Filipinos from war-torn Lebanon, should stop.

Because of the family feud over funds, the neighbors now think that our embassy in Beirut has only $50,000 for housing and transporting some 30,000 Filipinos displaced by Israel’s indiscriminate barrage of US-supplied bombs and rockets.

It has been clarified, though, that President Gloria Arroyo authorized $500,000 at the onset of the crisis and that the Philippine embassy in Beirut was allowed to use $200,000 — assuming it is there already — to speed up evacuation.

As other countries rush in planes and security to pluck their nationals from harm’s way, our kababayan scampering from the carnage can only watch helplessly. Their government can rescue them only in occasional batches of 250.

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NEVER-LAND: From Enchanted Kingdom, it seems the Philippines has been transformed into Fantasyland with the President’s SOFA (State of the Future Address) last Monday.

Now we are emerging as a Never-Never Land — never pin your hopes on the government or its officials. It could be a never-ending wait if one relied on them to act on urgent problems. We should be ready to fend for ourselves.

The government that exacts fees from departing workers even before they can earn their first dollar has accumulated P8 billion in favored banks. But it has only $500,000 for an emergency evacuation?

That amount is petty cash compared to the multimillion-dollar private hoards that some top officials keep in foreign banks.

Filipinos laboring abroad remit home some $12 billion annually to help the families they have left behind, with the money necessarily finding itself into the economic bloodstream. It is not right to treat these “new heroes” like charity cases.

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THERE’S MONEY: Even without dipping into workers’ funds held in trust by government, the First Couple alone can advance millions from their private preserve, the President’s social fund and intelligence funds to scoop up right away Filipinos caught in the crossfire.

Such swift action would be more reassuring than having the President meet the evacuees at the airport as they arrive in trickles.

President Arroyo herself bragged in her SOFA that the money needed for her wish-list of super projects — estimated to entail half a trillion pesos — are already available.

If the money is on hand as claimed, or at least receivable, can we not borrow against it and repay with OWWA funds? We appeal to the officials involved to forgo their commissions, if any, earned from the deposits or placement of workers’ funds.

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SENATE PROBE: Right on cue, the Senate under newly installed President Manuel Villar now wants to investigate the accumulation and disposition of labor funds and other moneys meant to help workers in distress.

With Sen. Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada, chairman of the committee on labor or something, presiding over the threatened inquiry, we know even before he bangs the gavel where the public hearing will end up, and what the committee report will say.

The new Senate president, who claims to be a champion of mass housing — a dubious title I would say — need not lean toward an oppositionist orientation just to prove his supposed independence and his being worthy of the trust of his colleagues.

It would help clarify his political complexion if Senator Villar first defined what independence means to him. He is independent from what, and from whom?

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ESPIONAGE CASE: No, I do not think Michael Rey Aquino, former police official and right-hand man of now Sen. Panfilo “Ping” Lacson when he was chief of the national police and the Presidential Anti-Organized Crime Task Force, is a “sacrificial lamb” or “fall guy.”

He was described by administration officials as having pleaded guilty to espionage charges in the US to save his bosses in Manila with whom he shared stolen US state secrets. On the contrary, he may have implicated some of them to save his neck.

My guess is that he realized that out there in the States where his “connections” could not spring him, he had to do what was best for him — and that was to own up to the crime and plea bargain for a lighter sentence.

His earlier not-guilty plea became untenable after the principal accused, former White House intelligence officer Leandro Aragoncillo, admitted filching voluminous classified materials and passing them on to Aquino and some opposition leaders in Manila.

Aquino must have disclosed incriminating details about many Philippine officials to gain points in his plea bargaining. The information would be useful to US agencies if and when they have to tighten the screws on these officials.

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MERALCO SIDE: Elpi O. Cuna Jr., a Manila Electric Co. vice president, wrote to clarify his firm’s deal with Duracom, a power firm owned by Sunny Sun, who is also the head of YNN Pacific that had won the controversial bidding for the 600-megawatt Masinloc power plant in Zambales.

Part of Cuna’s email (edited for brevity) pointed out that as regards Duracom’s 216-megawatt bunker-C fired power barge in Navotas:

There is no take or pay in Meralco’s contract with Duracom. As a dispatchable plant, Meralco is under no obligation to get a required volume nor does it have to pay fixed monthly payments to Duracom. Meralco payments are dependent only on the electricity Duracom is able to deliver.

Duracom is an embedded generator. Unlike Meralco’s other IPPs that require the use of Transco’s lines to bring the power from the plant to Meralco’s load centers, the Duracom barges deliver power directly to Meralco’s primary distribution system.

But the main point is Duracom’s pricing of its power sold to Meralco. First, Meralco’s contract with Duracom, including all subsequent amendments, had all been approved by Energy Regulatory Commission. Second, Duracom power has been sold at a price equivalent to or at a discount compared to alternative Meralco suppliers.

There had been changes in the pricing of Duracom power through the years:

When Duracom’s first contract was approved by the then Energy Regulatory Board on Jan. 8, 1998, the price was pegged at National Powwer Corp.’s average selling rate.

In an order dated Feb. 22, 2006, ERC provisionally approved pricing Meralco’s offtake from Duracom in the following manner:

  1. Before the commercial operation of the Wholesale Electricity Spot Market (WESM), Napocor’s corresponding hourly Time-of-Use (TOU) rate plus 95 percent of the applicable Transco charges.
  2. Upon commercial operation of the WESM — the corresponding hourly WESM clearing price plus 95 percent of the applicable Transco charges.

Few people know that Meralco’s purchase from Napocor during peak hours is priced at P7.7677 per kwh. This consists of P6.0601 for basic generation charges, another P0.6337 for NPC’s GRAM, ICERA, and Franchise and Benefits to Host Communities, P0.5967 for Transco’s Power Delivery Service, and P0.4853 for Transco-billed Ancillary Service and other charges.

A purchase from Duracom at peak brings this down to P7.4718 per kwh, translating to savings of around P0.30, because of the 95-percent discount on Transco charges and the fact that back-up charges do not apply.

Even at the much-ballyhooed P7.50 per kwh from Duracom, Meralco customers are still better off by P0.2677 per kwh.

Now that the WESM is already in commercial operation and the WESM clearing price is much lower than Napocor’s TOU rates, per the ERC-approved amendment, Duracom pricing will now follow the WESM clearing price plus 95 percent of the applicable Transco charges. Savings, as such, will now be more substantial than when NPC’s TOU rates were the applicable benchmark.

Given these facts, how then could Meralco customers been disadvantaged with Meralco’s contract with Duracom? Duracom contributed only 2.57 percent of Meralco’s supply requirements in June when it was dispatched at 40 perent of capacity. Dispatch has not been consistent at 40 to 50 percent.

In fact, there were months this year and last when the dispatch was just over 3 percent. For the entire 2005 and the first six months of the year, dispatch averaged at 32 percent and 26 percent, respectively.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of July 30, 2006)

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