POSTSCRIPT / May 8, 2008 / Thursday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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GMA action awaited on Napocor coal gang

BLINDERS: If Malacañang wants to know why the retail cost of electricity has gone up, and sincerely wants to do something about the problem, it should take off its blinders and let the chips fall where they may.

Diverse factors contribute to the cost — the generating equipment, fuel, power producers’ contracts, distributors, transmission lines, taxes, regulatory bureaucracy, et cetera.

Malacañang knows this basic fact, but prefers to lay the blame for expensive power on the tailend element – the distributor, specifically the Manila Electric Co. (Meralco), which just serves as the collection agency for the other parties.

Meralco has some explaining to do, but so do the other elements, including the cabal at the National Power Corp. that sees to it that the coal (used in generating 35 percent of the total kilowatt-hour output in Luzon) is overpriced.

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CODDLING: While Malacañang wages a punitive war against the Lopezes running Meralco, it protects the Napocor gang procuring the overpriced fuel that brings in fat commissions but pads the generating cost. Why the coddling?

This is not to absolve Meralco. I for one want to see a review of Meralco’s passing on to us captive consumers what it calls “system loss.”

System loss, one of the items on our electricity bills, refers to the power lost to illegal connections and to friction or resistance on the wires and cables as the electricity flows though.

It is unfair for Meralco to make law-abiding consumers pay for the electricity stolen from its lines.

As for the power lost to friction, there should be adopted a universal standard of tolerable loss due to resistance. Meralco may be allowed to spread out the bulk of this system loss to billable users.

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MINERS’ SIDE: Ben A. delos Reyes Jr., a vice president of Intex Resources Phils. Inc., takes exception to my Postscript (“Mine firms reap riches, but local folk stay poor”) published last April 29.

Delos Reyes said in a letter: “We note your anti-mining advocacy and respect your views. We can hardly blame you for this considering that past mining practices were less than ideal. Like other countries with a history of mining, the Philippines has fortunately learned from its mistakes.

“It is against this backdrop that the Philippine Mining Act of 1995 was enacted to address the concerns you validly raised in your column. This landmark piece of legislation enunciates the best available mining practices and regulations in such a way that it addresses the social and environmental impact that mining generates.

“With a more vigilant, proactive and enlightened civil society today, mining companies continuously find themselves under public scrutiny such that falling short of best practice standards will not escape notice – not only by local advocacy groups but also international organizations.”

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NO BAN?: Delos Reyes said that Intex Resources is a subsidiary of a Norwegian company known as Intex Resources ASA.

Intex, the successor of several companies mentioned in Postscript, is the proponent of the Mindoro nickel project, potentially one of the world’s largest discoveries of laterite nickel.

Clarifying that the Arroyo administration did not ban mining in Mindoro, he said: “What transpired was a cancellation of our Mineral Production Sharing Agreement (MPSA) by then-DENR Secretary Heherson Alvarez which was reversed by President Arroyo. Subsequently, then DENR Secretary Michael Defensor issued a return-to-work order in compliance with the decision of President Arroyo.”

He said that there is no mining activity yet in Mindoro, pointing out that the project is still at the exploration stage. “We are still currently determining the viability of developing a potentially large natural resource of laterite nickel,” he said.

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INTEX STANCE: Delos Reyes said there is “no valid legal edict” that has been issued to declare a moratorium on mining on Mindoro island. He added:

“While the Sangguniang Panlalawigan of Oriental Mindoro issued a resolution calling for a moratorium, such declaration is contrary to law and legally void since local governments are not empowered by the Local Government Code to overturn pronouncements issued by the national government.

“Moreover, the moratorium was passed after the signing of the MPSA. The MPSA partakes of a nature of a contract between the Philippine government and our affiliate, Aglubang Mining Corp. That being the case, the moratorium did not cover our MPSA.

“Intex Resources seriously takes into consideration all stakeholder concerns — whether real, perceived and/or imagined — and addresses them accordingly. Intex strictly adheres with established governance standards of the Philippines and of Norway, one of the world’s most ecologically and environmentally-correct countries.”

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QUESTIONS: But the questions posed in my April 29 Postscript remain unanswered:

“Big Mining and conniving government officials keep telling us that stripping the earth of its mineral wealth is the answer to our poverty. They tell us that mining will enable this poor nation to finally pole vault to prosperity, blah-blah.

“Maybe I have not looked around hard enough, but I have not seen one mining town and its residents wallowing in proportionate prosperity. Have you?

“What I see are foreign investors and their local runners hauling off wealth by the tons, by the millions of dollars, while their workers and the neighborhood sink into disease and degradation.

“And as they slink away, Big Miners often leave behind a patch of Earth that has been bled dry and a downstream wasteland poisoned beyond repair.

“Where is the promised trade-off?”

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of May 8, 2008)

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