POSTSCRIPT / January 21, 2007 / Sunday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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Is JBC now a certified rubber stamp of Palace?

INSIDE DOPE: The Judicial and Bar Council interviewed last Friday three applicants for the Supreme Court seat vacated by then Associate Justice Reynato Puno when he was appointed Chief Justice.

Except for House justice committee chairman Simeon Datumanong, all the JBC members participated actively in interviewing Government Corporate Counsel Agnes Devanadera, Court of Appeals Presiding Justice Ruben Reyes and CA Justice Edgar Cruz.

The JBC members present were Chief Justice Puno, Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez, Sen. Francis Pangilinan, retired SC Justice Regino Hermosisima, retired Sandiganbayan Justice Raoul Victorino, Dean Amado Dimayuga and lawyer Conrad Castro.

The other applicants were no longer interviewed as they already went through that routine last year when they vied for the vacancy now occupied by Justice Presbitero Velasco.

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PALACE BET: The interview of Devanadera took all of three hours from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Such interest in her is to be expected since it is of public knowledge in bench and bar circles that Devanadera is Malacanang’s “bet” for the SC vacancy.

We are disturbed by candid disclosures of several JBC members that “influential figures” have been calling them to push the nomination of “anointed” applicants.

One JBC member admitted at last Friday’s session that he had breakfast the day before with an applicant and a mutual friend.

Something is seriously wrong when applicants, influence peddlers and lobbyists openly try to influence JBC members.

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RUBBER STAMP?: The JBC’s image is muddy. It has made just too many questionable nominations to the Bench — especially the Supreme Court, the Court of Appeals and the Sandiganbayan.

Consensus has jelled in the legal community, if not in the larger public mind, that the JBC must take some blame for the continued deterioration of the quality of Malacanang appointees to the judiciary.

The main responsibility, of course, for ensuring that only top quality appointees get to sit lies in the appointing power.

The session tomorrow of the JBC, now under a new Chief Justice, will be something to watch. By the way it votes on the nominees, we will know if, indeed, it is now nothing but a Malacanang rubber stamp.

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MALAKAS ITO!: Consumers and industry players are asking what game is being played by a new German power plant based in Mindanao and energy officials led by Energy Secretary Raphael Perpetuo Lotilla.

The German firm Steag AG has voiced apprehension over the Electric Power Industry Reform Act (Epira) that, it said, is keeping it and other investors in the energy sector from expanding their businesses.

Claus-Peter Bell, Steag AG executive vice president, said they were ready to put in more money but needed a legal framework it cannot find in the Epira.

I was taken aback by the warm reaction of Secretary Lotilla, who reportedly said that the Germans could skirt the Epira. He indicated his readiness to accommodate it with a new power supply agreement.

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CRISIS MODE: The secretary referred to Section 71 of the Epira requiring declaration by the President of a crisis situation, such as in energy-starved areas of Mindanao that the expanded plant can service with the upgrading of transmission facilities.

By the expediency of such crisis declaration, the President can merely ask Congress to give its authorization, and — presto! — the crisis is solved. Or so it seems.

But wait. Is Secretary Lotilla confirming that there is already a power crisis in Mindanao? Or is a crisis being conjured up to prepare the ground for Steag types of power play?

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BACK TO IPPs: Such official talk makes us consumers worry. After all, we always end up carrying the heavy payment burden resulting from the incompetence and graft of power planners and policymakers.

Still fresh in our minds is the rape of the power industry in the 90s.

Remember how the state-owned National Power Corp. went insolvent and passed on its huge losses to taxpayers? Remember how the country was bled by Independent Power Producers that collected payments for overpriced power that they never delivered?

Is Secretary Lotilla, an alter ego of somebody in Malacanang, laying the basis for giving Steag AG-types IPP-like contracts characterized by government guarantees and higher electricity rates?

They better tell us in advance so we will at least know what hit us.

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CHANGING RULES: The $305-million coal-fired plant of Steag AG sits on a 55-hectare site in the Phividec Industrial Estate in Villanueva, Misamis Oriental. With its 200-megawatt capacity, it should be able to service many key areas in Mindanao.

Despite being new in the business, Steag AG has the gall to lobby the government to guarantee its profit by proposing that it be allowed to increase its capacity by 150 MW once Epira is amended.

By their pronouncements and body language, it appears that Steag AG and Secretary Lotilla want to change the rules in the middle of the game.

With Epira in place, however, the government cannot enter anymore into build-operate-transfer (BOT) schemes for power plants. It is already privatizing the Napocor’s generating assets.

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STEADY ON: Weighing in, the Joint Congressional Power Commission said it sees no need to amend the Epira to attract foreign investors. The JCPC was created to review, assess and recommend changes in the Epira.

Rep. Arnulfo Fuentebella, JCPC vice chairman and Epira co-author, said the country should work proactively to carry out the power reform law, especially its key intent of boosting foreign investments as the industry opens up to competition.

The Epira vision is to stop government’s funding power projects and giving guarantees to private firms.

Many of our power problems have stemmed from government’s over-contracting generation and guaranteeing profits through loose BOT contracts in the 90s.

Fuentebella said we just have to patiently implement the Epira instead of insisting on amendments just when we are starting to make progress. That makes sense.

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SENIORS, TAKE NOTE: In a few days, senior citizens will be exempt from getting a Taxpayer’s Identification Number or TIN to claim sales discounts.

Internal Revenue Commissioner Jose Mario Buñag has issued Revenue Regulation No. 1-2007 eliminating the TIN for senior citizens as a requirement for business establishments to claim the sales discounts as deductions from gross income.

Buñag also explained that when computing Value Added Tax on a sale, the 20-percent senior citizen’s discount should be DEDUCTED FIRST from the gross price. It is only AFTER the SC discount is made that the VAT is computed.

The new regulation was published in a newspaper last Jan. 12, 2007. It takes effect 15 days after. It is not retroactive.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of January 21, 2007)

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