Members of Congress are reportedly proposing the granting of emergency powers to Philippine President Benigno Simeon “BS” Aquino III to “give him more control over power generation in the country.” To that, Eastern Samar Rep. Ben Evardone also added the country’s commuter woes as further justification saying that development of solutions to these problems “can be achieved by empowering President Aquino with powers that will expedite the processes of implementing mega power and mass transit systems.”The problems underlying power and mass transit in the Philippines has festered for many decades as these had followed the same slow rot that besets much of the other degenerate aspects of Philippine society and industry. But electric power came to light again recently after electricity distributor Meralco announced steep hikes in power rates last December. This provoked a public outcry that led to the issuance of a temporary restraining order by the Philippines’ Supreme Court on the price hikes. Meralco’s response was to threaten the public with “rotational blackouts”, an act Kabataan Partylist Rep. Terry Ridon described as an attempt to “blackmail” the public into timidly accepting the situation like they always have.
Manila Times columnist Ben Kritz highlights the plight of Filipino consumers who are unfortunate to be living under the crushing weight of of “one of the world’s highest energy costs”. This situation is unlikely to be alleviated anytime soon as the problem is deeply systemic owing to “a legal framework that prevents rational planning and regulation of the energy sector.” He sums up the Philippines’ electricity production and distribution woes thus…
Given the breadth and depth of these problems, it is unlikely that President BS Aquino or any president for that manner can implement the right solutions within the one year limit on the timeframe of the effectivity of the “emergency powers” Evardone proposes.
The southern island of Mindanao continues, just as it has for at least the last six years, to be beset by supply problems, heavily reliant as it is on aging, seasonally-affected hydroelectric power. The heavily populated northern island of Luzon actually has enough power, and if a sound growth and management plan was in place would continue to stay five or six years ahead of anything resembling a supply shortage, but suffers from technical inefficiency and politically-enabled rent-seeking. The central Visayas region of the country, really a collection of many small grids due to its geography, suffers from a bit of both the problems of its neighbors to the north and south. And all across the country, customers are at the mercy of business relationships between power producers and suppliers, relationships that are by turns collusive or adversarial.
The key question here is quite straightforward:
What will President BS Aquino do differently this time?
Because the country’s energy and transport woes have spanned many presidents and their administrations, it is unlikely that the least-qualified among Philippine presidents and one who now presides over one of the most fragmented administrations in Philippine history will be able to competently tackle a crisis of this magnitude.
Developing solutions to energy and transport, furthermore, will require cooperation across sectors and branches of government. But the Philippine government under the watch of President BS Aquino has degenerated since coming to power in 2010 after having antagonised the Supreme Court over Aquino’s personal vendetta against former Chief Justice Renato Corona and dragging Philippine Congress into a vast pork barrel corruption scandal that has virtually paralysed the nation.
The extent of this paralysis and dysfunction remains at the fore as the Philippine government and Philippine society at large continues to fail in efforts to recover from the devastation wrought in November last year by super-typhoon Haiyan (a.k.a. Yolanda) after a flaccid emergency response immediately following the disaster that was witnessed worldwide. The failed emergency response and the continued failure of on-going recovery is seen by many to be rooted in a long-brewing political rivalry between the Romualdez clan that rules Leyte province which felt the brunt of Haiyan’s destruction, and the Aquino-Cojuangco clan that currently rules from Manila.
With so much evidence that neither wealth of resources nor an abundance of political power makes much of a difference as far as any Philippine government’s overall ability to step up and collectively work properly, the question of the effectiveness of any further power given to President BS Aquino becomes a no-brainer.[Photo of President BS Aquino courtesy Interaksyon.com.]
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