Aquino rejects extra powers

MANILA — President Aquino on Thursday rejected proposals for Congress to give him emergency powers to address the power problem in Mindanao.

Aquino said he does not need them — for now.

“At this time, I’m not sure if emergency powers are what are needed. For instance, (it was) clear that from the time that we got into office there was already a shortage,” he said in an interview after the inauguration of the Philippine Expeditionary Force to Korea (PEFTOK)-Korean War Memorial Hall at the Libingan ng mga Bayani Annex, in Taguig City yesterday.
Aquino said one of the causes of the power problem in Mindanao is the old power infrastructure in the island, which should have been repaired or upgraded years ago.

He said he could not understand why people are criticizing him and Energy Secretary Jose Rene Almendras when the problem involved the Agus 6 hydro power plant which has a life span of 30 years.

He said the Agus Unit 1 was built in 1953, while Unit 2 was built in 1956 which means that they should have been updated in 1983 and 1986.

“We are taking care of it now but it will take 30 months to put it back up and increase the generating capacity,” he said.

The President said Agus 6 will be repaired but it would take 30 months to complete, while a coal plant is also being set up but would also take two to three years to build.

He said part of the process of building the coal plant is processing of environmental compliance certificates, the construction permits, conducting public dialogues and the like.

“Na-delay iyung construction of the coal fire plants primarily because it took the two firms that are setting them up in Mindanao close to a year or over a year to secure the necessary permits. So we are trying to expedite the process at the same time taking into consideration the concerns of the residents that will be affected. But there is a need for power and power has to come from somewhere,” he said.

Aquino is set to meet with stakeholders of Mindanao in a power summit in Davao City after the Holy Week to assure them that the government is addressing the problem.

Former President Fidel Ramos, in an interview at the sidelines of the inauguration, said if the Mindanao power crisis is true, Aquino may need emergency powers.

Ramos recalled that in 1992 there were already eight to 12-hour rotating brownouts in Metro Manila. He said Congress granted him emergency powers, and some 40 independent power producers signed contracts with the government then, which some blamed for the high energy costs.

Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV filed a bill giving Aquino emergency powers for one year to address the power shortage in Mindanao, despite opposition from several lawmakers.

Trillanes blamed the power problem on the Arroyo administration’s negligence, on the 10-year exemption from privatization of power plants run by the state-owned National Power Corporation, and the postponement of the construction of the transmission line from Leyte to Surigao.

Under the proposed Electric Power Crisis Act of 2012 (Senate Bill 3167), the President will be allowed to enter into negotiated contracts for the construction, repair, rehabilitation, improvement or maintenance of power plants, projects and facilities, subject to some safeguard provisions.

“Out of abundance of caution, however, this measure expressly prohibits the government from granting sovereign guarantee for the payment of obligations incurred by the independent power producers,” Trillanes said.

The bill also prohibits the government from entering into negotiated contracts which “will bring the total production capacity in excess of the power requirements of the country” as projected by the Department of Energy.

“Likewise, this measure prohibits the inclusion of the onerous take-or-pay or similar provision, which appeared to have been abused in the past,” he added.

Sen. Joker Arroyo said emergency powers are no longer necessary as the President has already been vested with such power under the Constitution.

Arroyo warned that if the President fails to address the matter, he would be blamed since Congress has already vested him with emergency powers.

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