Mind da News: Admitting Impotency?

GENERAL SANTOS CITY, December 18, 2013 Giving the public respite from oil and power rate increases is not within the power of President Aquino to grant at this point. In a chat over coffee with Filipino journalists covering his trip to Tokyo, the President said his hands were tied by a Supreme Court ruling barring the use of the Malampaya Funds for subsidies to power consumers.” This Philippine Daily Inquirer reported last December 14.

He told the reporters:

1. Suspending power rate increase is the function of the Energy Regulatory Commission, an independent body that “does not report to us” – meaning, the President cannot suspend the excessive power rate the Meralco imposed this month.

2. While he doubts the reasonableness of the increase, he has asked the Department of Energy to investigate “to make sure that the basis for it was correct”.

3. He is aware of reports that power plants supplying electricity to the Meralco shut down for maintenance work at the same time – a collusion to create artificial shortage – commenting: “It shouldn’t have happened in that manner—without  alternative power sources.”

4. He is also aware that “spot prices” in the Wholesale Electricity Spot Market, Meralco’s only alternative source of electricity, are “the highest they have ever been.”

Is President Benigno Simeon C. Aquino III really that impotent? He rationalizes instead of using the powers implicit in the presidency without being a dictator. Is Section 9 of Article XVI of the 1987 Constitution not within the implicit powers of the President to enforce in the absence of relevant laws? It reads: “The State shall protect consumers from trade malpractices ….”

Why is the President just reactive to problems like the excessive power rate increase?

Granted: As he told reporters he has no source of funds to subsidize the power rate increase. Subsidy will not stop this recurring “trade malpractice”; it will only perpetuate it. Stricter laws are the remedy. But consumers should not be made to suffer in the absence of such laws. The President must have the persuasive power to prevail over Meralco and the colluding power suppliers to cut back their rates to the status quo. His last recourse is to ask the Supreme Court to restrain the increase.

Granted: He has no control over the Energy Regulation Commission (ERC). As an autonomous body it is not required to report to the President. The ERC has approved Meralco’s application for an excessive rate increase. Why does he not countermand the approval to protect Meralco’s consumers? As a last recourse, can he not ask the Supreme Court to restrain the increase?

Granted: The Senate, the Department of Justice and, believe it, the ERC — after permitting Meralco to charge the excessive rate – are investigating the matter. Will the President just fold his arms — the Palace telling the Meralco consumers: “We will allow the … investigation to take its course and we will await the findings and recommendations”? (The Philippine Star, December 18, 2013: Senate summons ERC chief)

We believe the President has the persuasive and coercive powers to defend the Constitution and promote public and national welfare. But on the contrary, unbelievably, he stands helplessly like the Meralco consumers — admitting his impotency. Should he have the courage to use his powers the people will support him.

The least he could have done was to invite top executives of Meralco and of the power industry to a luncheon conference in Malacañang. Had he done that could Meralco and the other power executives have ignored the President?

In two other occasions in the past, President Aquino’s failure to exercise his persuasive powers had catastrophic effects. The first was the hostage-taking of Hongkong tourist bus in the Manila Rizal Park on August 23, 2010; the other, the MNLF “invasion” of Zamboanga City last September.

In the first case, dismissed PNP Senior Inspector Rolando Mendoza took hostage the Hongkong tourists to give vent to what he believed as his unjust dismissal. He wanted a re-trial of his case. Within the more than four hours between the taking and the shootout, the President could have persuaded Mendoza to release the tourists had he sent his personal emissary or had he talked to Mendoza by cell-phone assuring him of the re-trial of his case.

He could have ordered the re-trial to reiterate the assurance of the Department of Labor of a new hearing earlier sent to the police. But he left it to the police since according to a report he had many things to do. In the shootout at 3 p.m. when the police tried to forcefully arrest Medoza, eight tourists were killed. The diplomatic backlash continues nagging the Aquino government.

In the second case, the death of more than 200, the dislocation of more than a hundred thousand people, and the destruction of property and infrastructures worth millions, if not billion, of pesos could have been avoided had he talked to MNLF chair Nur Misuari and MNLF rebel chief Habier Malik. On the day he arrived in Zamboanga City a hostage priest was conveying to the city mayor and the police Malik’s readiness to talk. But he preferred the military option.

Call the hostage taking and Zamboanga City tragedies as water under the bridge. However, right now we see President Aquino, arms folded, standing on the bridge waiting for the excessive power rate increase to pass under with the drowning Meralco consumers.

[Author’s Note: Mind da News, an alternate of COMMENT, is specifically an opinion on current news. patpdiazgsc@yahoo.com]