POSTSCRIPT / May 4, 2006 / Thursday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Doña Mary is assurance that Erap won't jump bail

1-2-3 BLOWS: Thank goodness there is the Supreme Court.

We are reassured by the high court’s decision (1) upholding President Gloria Arroyo’s power to declare a state of emergency, as she did in Proclamation 1017, but at the same time (2) declaring illegal the police arrests and a raid made under the proclamation.

The latest SC ruling came in 1-2-3 fashion after two other major decisions rapping government’s disregard of basic rights guaranteed by the Constitution. It shows that the good justices are wide awake and able to keep their balance amid the political turmoil.

Voting 11-3, the court said the President has the power to declare a state of national emergency, but also said the arrest of two prominent protest marchers and the raid on an oppositionist newspaper office by virtue of Proclamation 1017 violated the law.

The decision was written by Justice Angelina Sandoval Gutierrez.

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WHO NOW PAYS?: My layman’s understanding of the case is that the President has the right, even the duty, to declare and tell the people if and when there is a national emergency. That was what she did, validly and legally, in Proclamation 1017.

The President did not create the emergency, but merely called attention to it, by issuing the proclamation. As is her duty, she then issued orders meant to contain the emergency.

The proclamation did not arm the police with new or additional powers. Their acting beyond the ambit of the law in violation of the Bill of Rights cannot be justified by their invoking Proclamation 1017.

The question now is: Who pays for the mistakes of the police and their superiors who thought they were injected with extra powers by the President’s proclamation? Ganoon na lang ba?

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ERAP’S HOME: The homecoming yesterday of former President Joseph “Erap” Estrada to join his mother Doña Mary in San Juan a day after her 101st birthday highlights the fact that the man is no flight risk and may be safely allowed to stay home on bail.

He has been detained for the past five years, lately at his villa in the wooded hills of Tanay, while plunder charges against him are being heard by the Sandigambayan.

He is not supposed to be punished yet for any crime since he is presumed innocent until proved guilty with finality. But are not his detention and denial of bail a kind of punishment?

In contrast, we see a whole caboodle of known big-time criminals and plunderers not only strutting around free but living the life of the high and the mighty.

In fairness, since Erap is not a flight risk and there is reasonable doubt that he will be convicted on the basis of sketchy evidence, he should be allowed to just stay home and save the government the expense of holding and securing him.

Think of it — would Erap escape from detention at home and run away from his mother’s side? Doña Mary is the best bail bond there is.

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WHY ONLY NOW?: It says here that chairman Cyril del Callar of the National Power Corp. is warning of a power crisis in Mindanao that began in the last quarter of 2005.

He said it would worsen soon, because the reserve power is no longer sufficient to cover the rising demand.

The crisis is actually that Del Callar is telling us this only now. He and Napocor and the Arroyo administration’s energy experts should have started moving in earnest before the problem could grow to crisis proportions.

Del Callar warned that the power shortage in Mindanao will be felt despite short-term solutions being carried out by Napocor. He also pointed to that weather phenomenon called El Nino as one of the culprits for the shortage in hydropower capacity.

Curiously, the weathermen are saying that we are feeling the effects of La Nina this year.

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STOP-GAP STEPS: What has Napocor done to avert the developing crisis?

The power firm is taking stop-gap measures. Del Callar, for instance, ordered the deployment to the stricken Mindanao areas of power barges from the Visayas. Somebody should tell him that the Visayas are also bracing for a power crisis this year.

Some energy experts have said that this rushing about with power barges from one area to another is confusing and very expensive. Moving a power barge from one point to another costs tens of millions of dollars, not to mention the high cost of maintaining these barges.

Napocor can afford this expensive exercise? I doubt it, but we taxpayers are expected to come in anyway and salvage the situation in case the expenses grow well beyond the revenues of the ailing power firm.

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OLD WARNINGS: Several years ago, energy experts and several stakeholders already sounded a warning that a power crisis was imminent not only in Mindanao but in the rest of the country.

One of the reasons given was the series of management lapses in the power sector, particularly in Napocor.

In fact, the power crisis has long been felt in the Visayas where regular power outages have become a common occurrence for hundreds of thousands of residents metaphorically living in the Dark Ages.

Napocor’s response to the situation was to transfer some power barges in Luzon to some islands in the Visayas, particularly to Panay island, spending millions of dollars in the laborious process.

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REVAMP NAPOCOR!: President Arroyo may want to scout for executives who can manage the power situation more competently even if they have no Palace connection. This she has to do since power, especially the quality and cost of electricity, is a delicate public issue.

A glaring indicator of mismanagement is the fact that while the demand for power is increasing because of the growing population and heightened economic activities, there has been no new infrastructure designed to meet the growing demand.

No new power plants are being built and there is not even minimal effort to improve existing facilities.

It is frightening to note that the administration may be deliberately forcing the crisis to a boil and so it could invoke the crisis to exercise emergency powers reminiscent of then President Fidel V. Ramos being given emergency powers by Congress.

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NO NEW PLANTS: Some observers are asking how come there has been no addition to the existing power plants to meet the growing demand.

Is it because there are no new investors willing to put their money in projects with security problems? Is it because of ever-changing economic policies and the restrictive regulatory powers of the government?

When the Electric Power Industry Reform Act (EPIRA) was passed five years ago, stakeholders in the power sector as well as foreign and local investors responded positively as they considered the law the answer to the power woes of the country.

But until now, many of its provisions — touted as the long-term solutions to the power problems — have yet to be carried out. Even the country’s top creditor, the World Bank, has had to express disappointment with the way the government is handling the situation.

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FAILED PRIVATIZATION: One such bold step is the privatization of the Napocor and its generating assets. This was envisioned to liberalize the power sector and open up new opportunities in various power-related industries.

But recent privatization efforts on two power plants ended in a fiasco. The bidding for the coal-fired Calaca power plant in Batangas, for instance, was declared a failure twice after officials allegedly sabotaged the bidding process.

The biddings were considered a failure when buyers of the Calaca plant learned that it has no Environmental Compliance Certificate issued by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and no title to the land where the plant stands.

Instead of rushing the privatization of Napocor and the power plants, the government has sold only 11 percent of its power plants. Sen. Joker Arroyo said it was worse than that — they have sold only 3 percent of assets.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of May 4, 2006)

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