POSTSCRIPT / April 16, 2009 / Thursday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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With GMA out, many bets are running in 2010

I TOLD YOU SO:. Finally, the operators pushing Charter Change are telling us now what Postscript has been saying since last year — that there will not be any Cha-cha before 2010 and that elections will be held next year as ordained by the Constitution

It does not require genius to make such a forecast. Most Filipino politicians, especially the garrulous type, are shallow and predictable. We do not have to read their lips, their body language gives away the whole story even before it unfolds.

The politician who is not yet into election-mode by this time is likely to find himself crowded out of the starting block for the presidential race in 2010.

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OPEN SEASON: It will be a packed field by November, the advanced deadline for the filing of certificates of candidacy.

One reason is that the incumbent President, who has a built-in advantage of at least 25 percent, is barred from reelection. The ensuing vacuum is sucking in all kinds of political debris.

Another reason is that by some sleight of hand, lawmakers had passed a law allowing senators to run for president, then walk back to their Senate seat if they lose, as expected — usually several millions richer for the experience.

One more reason: Some politicos cannot distinguish between popularity contests and elections, between real surveys and mere table pencil-pushing. They might just run on the basis of their supposed popularity or bloated poll ratings.

Still another reason is that some characters claim to be hearing voices from God goading them to run and fix this country. Instead of going to their psychiatrist, they might go to the Commission on Elections to file their candidacy.

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SAME BANANA: Except for those packaging themselves as a Moral Force riding a wave of reform that they are attempting to whip up through media, there hardly will be any product differentiation among the candidates.

Those already in office will be tagged as traditional politicians (trapo, or soiled rag). Using another metaphor, we will be treated to the spectacle of the pot calling the kettle black. Charges and counter-charges will fly thick in the air, but none will stick.

Neither do we expect any ideological difference among the parties or coalitions or whatever they call the political gangs in the turf war (those outside trying to barge in and those inside fighting to stay in).

To see a significant change, we can pin our hopes only on two elements: (1) the young voters (aged 18 to 36) whose number is swelling, and (2) the awakened sectors threatening to organize and reclaim the moral high ground.

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HEADLESS CHICKENS: Another remarkable thing about the coming election is that both the Administration and the Opposition camps have no rallying figure to unite and fire up the scattered forces.

We used to say that with the fall of then President Joseph “Erap” Estrada in 2001, the Opposition was left with no commander to lead it in political combat. Erap is out of power, low on funds, zero on patronage, and is himself wounded.

But Administration politicians are in the same sorry situation. Their rallying figure should be President Arroyo, their glorious Mother of Perpetual Help. Many of those hoping to run under the Palace flag, however, are worried that her endorsement may be a “kiss of death.”

With the resulting open field, big-name presidential aspirants talk with senior leaders of both the Administration and the Opposition, pushing alliances and deals to improve their chances in 2010.

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CHEAPER POWER: After filing a bill lowering royalties on indigenous sources of energy to reduce the retail cost of electricity, Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile now wants to grant tax exemption to distribution utilities to further cut power costs.

The twin moves should be a hint to the country’s economic managers to continue looking for ways to make power more affordable for households and industrial users.

Explaining Senate Bill 3148, Enrile said that while the Philippines is endowed with abundant resources, government impositions on their use for power generation “are more burdensome than those on imported fuels.”

He said the “rates of electricity generated using indigenous resources are artificially high.” He wants to reduce royalties to three percent of net proceeds from the sale of indigenous fuels or sources of energy.

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RATE REDUCTION: Industry estimates have it that once royalties on natural gas are either reduced or scrapped and once Value-Added Tax on electricity is lowered or abolished, consumers can enjoy a rate cut of more than P3 per kilowatt-hour.

The reduction will relieve industries caught in the global financial crisis. It will also throw a lifeline to firms looking for ways to save jobs and improve productivity.

SB 3148 seeks to lower the government share in the exploration, development and production of indigenous energy resources other than those already covered by the Renewable Energy Act of 2008. It will also remove disparities in tax/royalty treatment of local energy resources and imported fuels.

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PINOYS PENALIZED: If taxes and royalties on indigenous and imported fuels are removed, as the bill intends, the cost of electricity generated using local resources will be substantially lower.

Enrile noted that Filipinos are being penalized for using local energy resources, which is “not the case with our Asian neighbors similarly endowed such as Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia and Vietnam.”

He said that in the Meralco franchise area, a reduction of royalties will mean a rate reduction of as much as P0.50/kwh for all customers.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of April 16, 2009)

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