POSTSCRIPT / July 31, 2011 / Sunday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Watch Palace’s hands closely on Luisita issue

CLARK FIELD — On the Hacienda Luisita agrarian reform issue, watch Malacañang’s hands closely. We might be in for a big surprise as the right hand might be pretending to be unmindful of what the left hand is doing.

After the Supreme Court (1) struck down the Hacienda Luisita Inc. plan to distribute shares of stock instead of parcels of the 4,915-hectare sugar estate in Tarlac and (2) ordered a referendum to ascertain the wishes of the farmers, the government assailed the ruling and moved for a reconsideration.

The government’s disagreement with the Court ruling, voiced officially by the Department of Agrarian Reform and the Solicitor General, collided with the known intention of President Noynoy Aquino’s clan to give out HLI shares instead of land.

But then, President Aquino — who had divested his shares — was careful not to reiterate his family’s public position favoring stock distribution. In fact, his spokesmen said that whatever will be the final SC decision, he would abide by it. Well said.

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STAGE SET?: Despite the clear provision of the law — not to mention the Cojuangco family’s loan contracts that committed them to give the land to the farmers by 1967 – the DAR and the SolGen could have diluted their position to conform with the President’s private wishes. But they did not.

The Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Act of 1988 (RA 6657) provides: “If within two years from the approval of this Act, the land or stock transfer envisioned above is not made or realized or the plan for such stock distribution approved by the PARC (Presidential Agrarian Reform Council) within the same period, the agricultural land of the corporate owners or the corporations shall be subject to the compulsory coverage of this Act.”

Speaking through Agrarian Secretary Virgilio de los Reyes and Solicitor General Joel Cadiz, the two agencies under President Aquino stood firm that the Luisita estate should be given now to the farmers. They seemed to have spoken independently of Malacañang.

This has left me excited about the possibility that the stage is just being set for President Aquino to go, in a dramatic “tuwid na daan” way, against the clan in obedience to the law and in pursuit of genuine agrarian reform.

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NICHE IN HISTORY: If the only son of Ninoy and Cory Aquino does that, and I do hope he does – and more – he could be well on his way to cementing his place in Philippine history as our most socially enlightened President ever.

He can go several steps further to marshal government and private resources to ensure that the farmers or workers are able to modernize their farming and marketing techniques, improve the quality of their lives, and make Hacienda Luisita a world model in agrarian reform in a Third World setting.

The Cojuango-Aquino clan may lose the estate, a precious family heirloom, but it will be awarded fair compensation – plus the bonus of seeing one of its scions hailed as a champion of the tillers of the soil.

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WHY NOT SOLAR?: People often ask why, with free sunshine streaming on the countryside, we do not develop solar energy as an alternative source of cheaper electricity.

The technology is there. And there is no lack of interested investors. Why is solar energy not being tapped in a big way?

Key officials of the Philippine Solar Power Alliance cited the recurring brownouts in Mindanao that, they said, could be solved more quickly by building solar power plants there.

Dennis Ibarra, PSPA president, said: “Putting up solar power plants is the fastest among all energy technologies. A 10-megawatt solar plant can be installed and commissioned in just six months or even less because it does not have fuel or other environmental concerns.”

“This is in contrast to the multi-year construction phases of fossil fuel, large hydro and geothermal, and other emerging renewable energy (RE) power sources,” he added.

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ACUTE SHORTAGE: Mindanao has been suffering from an acute power supply shortage. Reports have it that power reserve levels remain low at only 100 MW during peak hours.

The big island’s power-generating capacity relies heavily on the weather and water supply as half of its electricity is generated by hydroelectric plants.

But the Department of Energy has put a 50-MW cap on solar energy installation target for three years, which is only 18 percent of the original 269 MW presented by Energy Secretary Rene Almendras to President Aquino last June.

Since higher installation capacities have been given to other renewable energy sectors, PSPA has appealed to the DoE to amend the installation targets from 50 MW back to 269 MW.

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FAST DEPLOYMENT: Ramon Abaya, PSPA chairman, pointed out that the speed in deploying solar power plants is the product of more than 40 years of installation and connection experience by established companies who are now keen on investing in Mindanao.

He said that local and international solar firms can produce at least 400 megawatts of electricity to deal with the power shortages if the government allows them.

As of May, 40 local and international project applications had been submitted to the DoE. Abaya said: “If these projects are allowed to produce 10 MW each, that means 400 MW of clean and renewable power.”

Here in Clark, if I may digress, an investor once proposed putting up a solar plant to meet the rising need for power in this investment zone. But when he asked for too large an area for laying out his solar panes his proposal met with some objections.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of July 31, 2011)

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