Sunday, January 19, 2014

Problem-solving spectacle

Making sense of how we are addressing PHL “prevailing energy situation” in the face of the Meralco suspended increased rates and the bigger picture of ASEAN integration could make us scratch our heads – better than laughing or crying? “The process of Asean integration has been happening for more than a decade now. The Philippines has shown readiness, through various government and business leaders, to actively and willingly integrate since then.” [PHL shows readiness for Asean market integration next year, Business Mirror, 11th Jan 2014]

But then again: “The prevailing energy situation is our economy’s Achilles’ Heel. Power supply, even at very high cost, is precarious. That is a disincentive for foreign direct investment. Who would want to invest billions in an industrial plant when power supply is uncertain? Because of policy volatility and bureaucratic delay, we have not installed any major additional baseload generating capacity in nearly a decade.” [Blackouts, First Person, Alex Magno, The Philippine Star, 11th Jan 2014]

Timing is everything and so comes government: ‘Don’t stir up power issue.’ “At least on our end, we are doing our part to ensure there would be effective solutions to what they are facing right now . . . there are definitely solutions to the country’s power woes and that it would be best for the public and industry stakeholders to avoid moves and statements that would only make matters worse.” [Aurea Calica, The Philippine Star, 12th Jan 2014]

Not so fast? “Eastern Samar Rep. Ben Evardone, for his part, said the rising power cost is one of the two “catastrophic problems” that President Aquino needs to address immediately, using emergency powers . . . [T]here is an urgent need to fast-track the construction of more power plants not only to meet the growing demands of a rising economy but more importantly to lower the cost of electricity. In the same manner, there is a great need to speed up the construction of a mass transit system in Metro Manila to arrest the worsening traffic problem and provide commuters a more efficient mode of transport, he said.”

But that is not the last word: “Manila Rep. Lito Atienza, a member of the so-called independent bloc in the House of Representatives, dismissed Evardone’s call, saying emergency powers are unnecessary and that all Aquino needs to do is to be “more decisive, action-oriented, and really get into the country’s problems. That’s not an option that will solve these ills,” Atienza said in a telephone interview, adding the administration’s attitude in dealing with governance and crises has been one of apathy . . . They have not been able to do the simple task of providing new car owners with stickers and license plates . . . [and] also cited the case of the Languindingan International Airport, which still lacks runway lights and some landing instruments.”

“If that’s the attitude of the Cabinet of P-Noy, like in the DOTC, then there must be something really wrong in the leadership. I’m sure this is being replicated in many other agencies in government. If he (Aquino) does not know what’s happening, then he is being remiss in his duties . . . [G]ranting Aquino emergency powers would only mean that the same authority would be delegated to his “inefficient” Cabinet officials.”

“Meanwhile, Reps. Neri Colmenares and Carlos Zarate from the Bayan Muna party-list also accused Meralco and power generators of blackmailing consumers into accepting higher electricity rates . . . Last week, Philippine Independent Power Producers Association president Luis Miguel Aboitiz said that because of the TRO, unpaid power generators might not have enough cash to pay for fuel for peaking plants. This is clear blackmail. Meralco and Aboitiz are trying to circumvent the Supreme Court temporary restraining order with this threat,” Colmenares said. “What is obvious is that the problem was caused by government’s flawed policy of totally abandoning the power sector at the hands of private corporations through EPIRA.”

Do we have a solution? “Last Thursday, the Foundation for Economic Freedom convened a roundtable forum to discuss the complex issues in the power sector. The high-powered forum tackled the policy, engineering, financial and economic aspects of the looming power crisis. The impression I took away from that intense discussion was not encouraging.” [Blackouts, First Person, Alex Magno, The Philippine Star, 11th Jan 2014]

“One expert convinced all of us about the certainty of blackouts this summer and the next, when demand spikes and the thinning of energy reserves becomes evident. The thinning reserves will force us to use the costliest sources of power. We all agreed the Supreme Court’s (populist) intervention was unwarranted. It will complicate things and magnify the uncertainties without addressing the structural defects of our power sector.”

“Energy security in the Philippines is the bleakest in the ASEAN. All our neighbors have ample power reserves. The best of them have five or six times our generating capacity — and sell electricity at lower prices despite the cost of maintaining abundant reserves.”

Two columnists talked about our limitations which are no secret – and we must acknowledge that investment and technology must be at the top? Is this one of those challenges then where our assumption of going it alone must be the first to go? Where must our heads be in this day and age? And closer to home, where we talk about every other Filipino being hungry, would we in fact get a real sense of what hunger is when it is not our own reality – or of the ruling class that is calling the shots? And precisely why, for example, Francis opted to live outside the official papal home – and even beyond demonstrating a change in form, to align the Curia to his mindset, he took out conservative and other once powerful prelates from the Vatican's inner circle? Change and the approach to problem solving to truly address underlying challenges must breakdown old limitations. And Francis, not surprisingly, is attracting detractors but it appears he is on a mission that must be informing his boldness? 

US Ambassador Philip Goldberg had the following to say about another topic but also a Philippine problem: “The United States is helping improve the Philippines’ maritime defense capability now that the American government has described as “dangerous” a new Chinese fishing law in disputed Asian waters: “. . . [W]hat we are talking about doing is not about the 20th century and the bases, but about the 21st century and the kind of cooperation we can have to work together as we confront 21st century problems,” Goldberg told reporters after he was honored by the Philippine Military Academy here [Fort del Pilar, Baguio]. “Don’t dwell on the past but think about what the future holds,” he said. “That’s what we are trying to do regionally.” [Inquirer Northern Luzon, 11th Jan 2014]

That was a very loaded message from the ambassador but which we would easily dismiss because anything foreign doesn’t rank high in our value system? A friend says that given the menace of imperialism during its heyday, we can’t but dwell on the past. Yet both Lee Kuan Yew and Mahathir counseled: “You don’t have to love the West, but take their wealth and their technology.” And precisely that sat well with Deng Xiaoping given his own belief. And who’s left holding the bag – but Juan de la Cruz?

We may want to be parochial in our problem-solving; but our neighbors have a few things they could share with us – and that we can learn from? See above re all our neighbors have ample power reserves. And we seriously believe we're the next Asian tiger? It always starts in the mind – and why the power of the mindset is acknowledged especially in major endeavors! Should we first clean our house, keep our eye on the ball? And demonstrate that we're on a mission? Or will que sera, sera – if not vested interests – continue to rule Juan de la Cruz? Who can either: (a) scratch his head or (b) laugh or (c) cry?

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