MANILA, Philippines (2nd UPDATE) - President Gloria Arroyo has decided to adopt Energy Secretary Angelo Reyes’ proposal for the president to tap Section 71 of the Electric Power Industry Reform Act (EPIRA) and decisively solve the power crisis in Mindanao. However, this would make power more expensive.
Ambushed by Malacañang media at the awarding ceremonies for the 10 outstanding policemen, the President said, “Yes, yes, I'm adopting his (Reyes') recommendations.”
However, the president was unable to thresh out the details of what she approved.
When sought for comment in a subsequent Palace briefing, deputy presidential spokesperson Ricardo Saludo reported the following:
- lease rental of modular generating sets adding 160 megawatts (MW);
- operation of the Iigan diesel powered plant, adding 50-65 MW; and,
- increased contracting capacity from Southern Philippines Power Corporation for 5 MW.
Saludo said these measures would raise electricity costs since the added power would come from costlier oil-fired plants.
Mindanao currently relies heavily on hydroelectric power, which takes a hit from low water supply during an El Niño phenomenon.
“We're very much concerned, and we share the serious worries of consumers and the private sector over the power situation in different parts of the country. And it has been our long time policy to encourage investment and build plants as the economy grows,” Saludo said.
Power crisis recommended
Reyes had earlier recommended the declaration of a Mindanao power crisis to enable government to contract additional generating capacity under Section 71 of the EPIRA.
Saludo could not immediately clarify if invoking Section 71 was also part of what was approved---as that would mean calling for a special session of Congress to approve a joint resolution to authorize the president to add generating capacity.
”We haven’t gone that far (calling on allies). The President is accepting the recommendation of the secretary of energy to declare a power crisis in Mindanao. That’s as far as it has gone. But calling a special session, we weren’t aware of such steps yet, but immediate steps ginagawa na," he said.
When told that House Speaker Prospero Nograles is afraid he might not be able to muster a quorum for a joint session for this purpose, Salcedo said: "We have to work with Congress. We have to see what may be feasible."
Section 71 was meant as a safeguard against the notorious take-or-pay provision of the Independent Power Producers (IPPs), which sent power rates soaring years ago.
Quorum a problem
Saludo himself expressed reservations that a quorum could be mustered since both houses of Congress are on campaign break till May 31 to allow lawmakers to campaign for the May 10 elections.
“I'm not sure she has gone that far (calling for special session). The Department of Energy (DOE) report didn’t say anything about a special session. It just recommended that a power crisis be declared in Mindanao. Whether there's need for special session, whether this can wait till Congress reconvenes in June, we leave that to the DOE to determine," he added.
Saludo isn’t also sure if leasing generation sets would be allowed without the congressional authority, since it could fall within the language of the law requiring additional generating capacity to be authorized by Congress first.
On Monday, the House energy committee, chaired by the President’s son, Pampanga 2nd district Rep. Mikey Arroyo, approved the recommendation for a special session of Congress to address the power crisis.
However, the President, under the Constitution, must be the one to call for the special session.
Enrile also doubts quorum
For his part, Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile said: "I am willing to convene a special session to take up that proposal, but the question is if we can muster a quorum to convene a special session, since everyone is campaigning now. Besides, we have to know what kind of emergency powers are we going to grant President Arroyo? We have to specify that. But my primary concern is if we will be able to muster a quorum to convene."
Section 71 empowers the president, with the consent of Congress in a joint resolution, to enter into agreements to ensure the supply of electricity at times of crisis.
The president is also set to show off her new Cabinet members to the media during the weekly Cabinet meeting set for Tuesday next week. It will be held in Sulu.
Last February, the House committee on energy, chaired by Rep. Arroyo, discussed during a hearing the emergency powers for the president. The concensus was to call for a special session.