POSTSCRIPT / July 19, 2007 / Thursday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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SC nominees pass eye of Palace loyalty needle

ONG BID: Sandiganbayan Justice Gregory Ong filed last July 9 a petition in the Regional Trial Court of Pasig to “correct” his birth certificate to show that he was a natural-born citizen and therefore qualified to be a member of the judiciary.

The problem is that the Solicitor General who normally opposes this kind of petition on behalf of the government has already prejudged the issues when she sided with Ong in the Supreme Court and said that he was a natural-born citizen.

How then can Solicitor General Agnes Devanadera be expected to protect public interest?

The RTC case, assigned to Branch 264 of Judge Leoncio Janolo Jr., will be a farce unless civic-spirited lawyers or law associations intervene to protect the public and uphold the Constitution.

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LOYALTY CHECK: The Judicial and Bar Council now interviews applicants for judicial positions to determine if they meet the four qualifications required by the Constitution — probity, independence, competence and integrity.

However, once the list of nominees is sent to Malacanang, they are reportedly subjected to another interview in the Office of the Executive Secretary, this time to determine their “loyalty” to the appointing power.

Malacañang is being careful presumably because of its successive debacles in such critical cases as those involving Executive Order 464, the Calibrated Preemptive Response Policy, Presidential Proclamation 1071, People’s Initiative and the Satur Ocampo rebellion cases.

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TEAM GMA: From now until 2010 when President Gloria Arroyo finishes her term, eight SC justices would retire.

This gives rise to a situation where all 15 sitting justices will be her appointees. Even Chief Justice Reynato Puno will retire in May 2010, one month before the President’s term expires.

But loyalty checks do not always work. Even the dictator Marcos in his time could not control the likes of Roberto Concepcion, Ameurfina Herrera, Hugo Gutierrez and Vicente Abad Santos.

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SECOND OPINION: Ms Arroyo knows, I’m sure, that her influence will wane anyway after she retires.

She may also take a lesson from the case of Justice Ong, who was appointed by President Joseph Estrada but who inhibited himself in all Estrada cases in the Sandiganbayan.

Instead of defiling the judiciary by crude loyalty checks, President Arroyo should get unadulterated advice from known independent legal experts, who will tell her the real score and not what she wants to hear.

The President should double-check the opinions of Presidential Legal Counsel Sergio Apostol, Solicitor General Devanadera and Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez who have dismal track records in the Supreme Court cases of the administration.

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EPIRA LEGACY: One legacy that President Arroyo can leave when she exits in 2010 is the long arduous road she took that culminated in the Electric Power Industry Reform Act (Epira).

When she signed it into law in 2001, Epira was lauded internationally as progressive yet balanced. It placed the Philippine electricity industry among the most advanced in Asia as far as competition reforms went.

With her enlightened and persistent reformist drive demonstrated in Epira, President Arroyo accomplished, at least by way of legislation, what two presidents before her failed to achieve.

Questions: But is Epira working? If not, who are sabotaging it and why?

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MAFIA: Among those throwing obstacles is a mafia at the National Power Corp., the state firm that resists its mandated phase-out as the industry’s dominant player.

The avowed policy is to privatize Napocor so as to lure reputable private power investors. The desired end-result is improved efficiency, lower operation costs and stable and reasonably priced electricity.

Under the Epira timetable, Napocor assets should be 30-50 percent privatized by yearend. But because of internal obstructionism, only around 11 percent has been privatized since the law took effect in 2001.

Obviously, the mafia is not ready to give up its gold mine in the Napocor.

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REVAMP EPIRA?: The latest campaign of the cabal at Napocor is to get Malacañang, the public and some legislators to support a move to reopen and amend Epira.

The mafia has been laying the basis for rewriting Epira. After obstructing the process and forcing electricity rates to go up, the crooks now say the law does not work — and, ergo, Epira should be thrown out or revamped.

They have been sabotaging the bidding out of generating plants, buying fuel at atrociously high price then passing on the added cost to consumers, and manipulating the pricing at the electricity spot market.

One is tempted to ask if President Arroyo is really unaware of what is going on or if the racket is being perpetrated with her knowledge or that of somebody close to her.

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MANIPULATION: Although it is true that power rates have risen considerably since the law’s passage, fuel prices worldwide have gone up by almost 200 percent, eclipsing even the 18-percent appreciation of the peso versus the US dollar.

Since fuel accounts for almost half of generation costs, it is certain that electricity rates will have risen with or without Epira.

At the Wholesale Electricity Spot Market, meanwhile, price manipulation occurred because Siamese twins Napocor and the Power Sector Assets and Liability Management Corp. (Psalm) account for 80-90 percent of the volumes traded daily.

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COLLUSION: The Energy Regulatory Commission investigation report on the manipulation pointed an accusing finger at Napocor President Cyril del Callar’s “inappropriate and irregular” letter to his colleagues at Psalm.

The ERC said his letter was an invitation to all Napocor/Psalm-controlled plants to collude.

Despite the best efforts of the team at the Philippine Electricity Market Corp., the mother organization of WESM, to set up a world-class wholesale trading system, we can never have a well-functioning market while Napocor dominates the field.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of July 19, 2007)

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