POSTSCRIPT / May 24, 2007 / Thursday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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Prices going up again. Elections must be over

LE DELUGE: Here comes the bitter part of the election rigmarole. As always, soon after the votes are cast, the campaign promises and declarations of noble intentions of politicians are promptly forgotten.

The counting of the votes has not even been completed, yet prices have started to break loose from their artificial moorings and are now rising.

The first major price jump is that of motor vehicle fuel. The insatiable oil companies, big and small alike, readjusted last Saturday their price meters and we motorists are now paying more (P1 more per liter) for our gas.

That was after they fooled us, with the prompting of the administration, with occasional price cuts of 50 centavos/liter before the elections. Their revenue losses will now be recouped with a vengeance.

The cost of electricity, another major expense item, will soon go up also, with the National Power Corp. leading the race to extract more blood from captive electricity users.

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NAPOCOR FAULTED: Industry sources tell us that electricity rates could rise by as much as P2/kilowatt-hour as a result of high prices being traded at the Wholesale Electricity Spot Market (WESM).

They traced this to the low utilization of power plants running on cheaper fuel such as coal and hydropower and the over-reliance on more expensive oil-based generators. Besides, many Napocor plants are either outdated or out of service.

It was noted that, as a result, electricity rates in WESM surged by as much as P2/kwh to an estimated settlement price of P8/kwh in April to P5.936/kwh in March.

Philippine Electricity Market Corp. President Lasse Holopainen has said that “forced and unplanned outages… have constrained supply and increased reliance on more expensive oil-based plants.”

It has been shown that behind the power outages that hit some parts of Metro Manila, Bulacan and even Bicol was the failure of Napocor to stockpile oil and coal despite the expected rise in demand during summer.

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HOW COME?: It has been a mystery to many why Malacañang has been silent on issues ranging from incompetence and mismanagement to corruption hounding Napocor for years.

Is somebody big in the Palace protecting the crooks bleeding Napocor? One wonders why Malacañang seems unaware that:

■ In April and May, Napocor reportedly sought delivery of coal bought at a staggering $80 per metric ton, way off the $30-35 (pmt) long-term price of coal imported on a regular basis.

■ The recurring brownouts in Metro Manila and several provinces starting last April continued even during the election period, because of the failure of Napocor to procure enough fuel during the hot and dry season.

■ The sudden tripping and underperformance of several Napocor plants created a “fake” power crisis. What was the ulterior motive?

■ The steady appreciation of the peso against the US dollar in the past two years is enough reason for Napocor to lower electricity prices by as much as P2/kwh, but it never did.

■ The Napocor was found to have been responsible for the price manipulation at the WESM, the power trading floor, but nothing was done to prosecute those involved.

■ The projected sale of the 600-mw Masinloc coal-fired power plant in Zambales was torpedoed by insiders. Why? And how come the culprits were allowed to get away with it?

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OTHERS REVOLT: This sorry state puts other players in a bad light considering that they are being pilloried by the public because of Napocor’s mismanagement and suspected sabotage of the system.

For instance, Meralco, the biggest power utility in the country, is at a loss as to how to cope with the high fuel costs that result in higher electricity rates. Its problem is that it has already advanced payments to Napocor for its energy supply.

Meralco is trapped at current rate levels as it has to wait for the approval by the Energy Regulatory Commission of any price increase traced to the surge in the price of coal.

The impending rate increase and the failure to privatize Napocor’s generators and transmission facilities raise doubt over the administration’s sincerity in giving predictable and reasonably priced electricity.

Recall that a revolt once erupted in Central America where the people were pushed against the wall by the high cost of power.

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AMONG, AGAIN: Thanks to reader Emy Riguera for helping clear the confusion over the idea of Ed Panlilio, the priest who was elected governor of Pampanga, resigning from the priesthood.

Postscript said last Tuesday that “once a priest, always a priest,” as the sacerdotal sacrament, instituted by Christ himself, leaves an indelible mark that cannot be erased.

Riguera said in an email: “Your points on your well-written and well researched article about Gov. Panlilio are accurate. Archbishop Oscar Cruz is also accurate in saying that Among Gov should resign from the priesthood.

“The point of misunderstanding is the term ‘to resign.’ What the good archbishop is saying is Among must be ‘laicized.’ That means, he asks for a papal dispensation from the Vatican in renouncing his sacramental priesthood. As such, he has no faculties — he cannot offer the Mass or perform any sacrament because he is already a member of the ‘laity’ but he can receive the sacraments. Nonetheless, his priesthood remains intact.

“The issue now rests between the new governor and his immediate superior, Archbishop Paciano Aniceto. Should Archbishop Aniceto suspend his faculties while he is in office, Among Gov is not permitted to perform sacraments during his term.”

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of May 24, 2007)

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