POSTSCRIPT / February 18, 2014 / Tuesday


Opinion Columnist

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Stop pork barrel quiz, attend to lawmaking

TAMA NA!: If indeed the purpose of the Senate inquiry into the pork barrel scam is to craft remedial legislation, the Blue Ribbon committee can fold its circus tent, stop the hearings and go instead into a full-chamber bull session.

Among themselves, the senators already know everything there is to know about pork barrel, tagged in the old budget as the Priority Development Assistance Fund, including how to filch millions from the barrel of taxpayers’ money.

Having dipped into the pork barrel themselves, Blue Ribbon chairman TG Guingona and the hypocrites beside him should stop pretending they want to shed light on the dark secrets of that multibillion-peso racket.

Guingona should wipe that smirk off his face, adjourn the inquiry and submit quickly his recommendation on how to banish forever this scourge called pork barrel in all its manifestations and reincarnations in the national budget.

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WHICH TRUTH?: But the Guingona committee claims it also wants to know the truth about the P10-billion scam allegedly micro-managed by an enterprising Janet Lim Napoles.

Quite frankly, many of the senators – including no less than Senate President Franklin Drilon – stare at the porky truth every time they look at themselves in the mirror.

Reminds one of Pontius Pilate rhetorically asking Christ “What is truth?” while Truth personified was standing right before him.

Or are senators saying that, without taking off their blinders, they can uncover the whole truth better than the entire investigative machinery of the Department of Justice and the courts?

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PLAYING JUDGE: Taxpayers wince witnessing lawmakers straying away from their assigned task of legislation, wasting time and public funds as they try outdoing the proper prosecution and judicial agencies of government.

Our senators want to expose and punish the guilty? They should leave that to the courts that, despite their also being heir to Filipino frailties, are better equipped to hear and decide cases involving guilt or innocence.

Senators, also congressmen, should justify their multibillion-peso budgets by focusing on vital legislation. Instead of playing cops (and robbers?) and judges, they should pass laws addressing the poverty, unemployment, criminality and hunger around us.

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QUICKSAND: We asked in an earlier Postscript if pork barrel gofer Ruby Tuason did not step into quicksand when she offered to return P40 million in kickbacks, and testify against senators facing plunder charges — hoping to gain immunity as a state witness.

Several senators are now impugning her credibility because of her being assisted by a lawyer previously identified with Senate minority leader Juan Ponce Enrile, one of the accused, and her testifying that she did not directly hand kickbacks to him.

Then came Justice Secretary Leila de Lima saying that even without Tuason, the justice department already has an airtight case against Enrile and Sen. Jinggoy Estrada, another accused.

Tuason now runs the risk of not gaining protection as state witness unless she cooperates? But her problem is that she already admitted having taken commissions from the misuse of pork barrel funds.

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START AT SOURCE: As the usual blame game rages over the unusual jumps in the retail price of electricity, this consumer suggests that the government start looking at the problem from the power source – the generators.

What hits consumers at the tailend of the line is the accumulated wallop of market forces building up from the wholesale generation source to the retail end.

If the electricity is already expensive when it leaves the producers or generators, how can we expect it to be cheap or reasonably priced at the retail level?

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REGULATORY CAPTURE: Why is generation cost high? Most of the power plants are inefficient by world standards so operating cost is high in relation to their output. Many plants use expensive or overpriced fuel.

And then, many plants are owned by power moguls pushing to the maximum their profits while the opportunity lasts. They can do that because they are well connected in the so-called corridors of power.

There is regulatory capture, meaning there has emerged a symbiotic relationship between the private operators and the government regulators – worse than collusion — just like what is happening in other regulated industries.

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HARD REMEDIES: It is too late for the Aquino administration to reduce power rates to reasonable levels. From Day One, it has failed to give priority to power generation, an important factor of growth especially in a developing country like ours.

Although late, Malacañang can still start an honest and earnest rationalizing of policies, systems and enforcement — and bring in more generating capacity. But the salutary effects can be felt only several years down the road under another administration.

What it can try doing is trim the costs and pricing from the generating level, then police (to the extent that the law allows) the padding of claimed costs and the maximizing of profits as the electricity is transmitted, pooled at the power market exchange, and distributed.

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TALK IS CHEAP: But this last-minute burst might be too much for the dizzy administration to do. Whatever the press releases say, we consumers seem to be stuck in the meantime with expensive and unstable supply of electricity.

The reader need not agree with our view, which does not cite industry or official figures. This view simply reflects the comparative data and honest conversations we have had over the years with those engaged in the racket.

At some point, exasperated consumers can stop paying attention to the blame-tossing and the endless debate of officials, operators, regulators and consumer groups.

Talk is cheap although it can give a sense that something is being done. What consumers as well as foreign investors actually need is reasonably priced electricity that is also stable and predictable.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of February 18, 2014)

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