Undependable

FIRST PERSON By Alex Magno

A businessman-friend sent me a message the other day, railing about how the P18 billion raised through Feed-in Tariffs (FIT) charged electricity consumers could have been used to build a chain of recharging stations in the metropolitan area. Instead, as intended by our corrupt policies, FIT collections went to political cronies who claim they are saving the environment by investing in renewable energy.

With a chain of recharging stations in place, we could leapfrog the jeepney modernization program to use electric, not just Euro-4 compliant, vehicles. The technology is there. The recharging stations are not.

The environmental impact of clearing out the dirty diesel engines and putting in electric vehicles will be dramatic. The death toll from polluted air should drop remarkably.

FIT collects billions from consumers, keeping our power price regime high therefore depleting our manufacturing. In 2015, total FIT collections amounted to P10.22 billion. In 2016, with adjustments in the FIT rate, total collections ballooned to P18.54 billion. Estimated FIT collections for 2017 is placed at P24.44 billion.

Not a single peso from FIT collections goes to improvement of infrastructure. All the billions shelled out by poor electricity consumers via FIT go to offsetting business risks and ensuring profits for those who set up renewable energy facilities. The cronies who benefit from this have pulled off a massive scam by wrapping their enterprise with the cloak of political correctness.

It is not too late to scuttle this scam. We have much to learn from the experience of Australia on this matter.

Australian electricity consumers are up in arms over rising costs and undependable supply. Like us, Australia thought it is the politically correct course to subsidize investments in renewable energy, making the consumers pay for those subsidies. Moreover, they imposed all sorts of taxes and sanctions on power generation companies using coal.

As demand nears supply, Australians now realize that renewable energy is not a dependable source. It cannot provide the baseload capacity an economy needs to achieve energy security. Subsidizing renewable energy merely raises electricity prices, undercutting an economy’s ability to compete.

Renewable energy is well and good if consumers are not forced to subside them. In our case, the subsidies are better used to modernize mass transport systems.

Our backward and inefficient public transport system is, after all, the biggest contributor to the degradation of air quality in the urban centers where most of our people now live.

The cult of political correctness has misled many environmental activists otherwise acting in good faith. They ended up justifying FIT subsidies and, at the behest of cronies, demonizing coal power generation. They gloss over the fact that new technologies for coal power generation have made the iconic black smokestacks a thing of the past.

Those who make profits without assuming business risks by using FIT had the gall to demand even higher rates of subsidies from consumers. Fortunately, Energy Secretary Al Cusi has a clearer grasp of things. He rejected demands to further raise FIT rates.

Pork Barrel

And now for that other scam: the massive looting of pork barrel funds that happened during the pork-loving administration of Noynoy Aquino.

By some fine legal maneuvers, selective justice was pursued in this case. Three senators belonging to what was then the opposition were jailed and then the matter was hushed up. All the talk of “second” and third” batches of politicians guilty of plundering the pork that then Justice Secretary Leila de Lima dazzled us with have been filed deep with the hope they will be forgotten.

Fortunately, not all citizens are afflicted with short memories.

This week, a group of citizens launched what they call a Campaign for Public Accountability (CPA). Among those leading this group is former Makati vice-mayor Bobby Brillante. The group wants to revisit the Napoles scandal and expose the biggest looters of the pork barrel so generously dispensed by the previous administration.

The group claims the Senate investigation of this scam was deftly maneuvered to focus on the three opposition senators and shield the pro-Aquino politicians. They are now calling on Senate Blue Ribbon chair Richard Gordon and Francis Escudero to lead in the reopening of public inquiry into what really happened.

Gordon earlier committed to reopen the inquiry if new evidence is available. For his part, Escudero filed a resolution to reopen investigation, pointing out that the previous Senate investigation covered only P6 billion out of the P14 billion pork barrel anomaly uncovered by initial COA findings.

In particular, CPA is interested in the accountabilities of two sitting senators: Franklin Drilon and Antonio Trillanes. The two were particularly favored by Noynoy Aquino’s largesse.

Drilon is particularly close to Janet Napoles. Details of the close relationship were discussed shortly after the scam broke. The senator emerged from the investigation remarkably unscathed.

CPA is likewise questioning Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales’ opposition to the reopening of investigation into the pork barrel scam. This strikes the group as rather odd.

Brillante, in his press statement, asked rhetorically: “Is the Ombudsman afraid that with more revelations from Napoles more public officials will be indicted? Is the Ombudsman part of a conspiracy to cover up some people as she is afraid the whole truth might come out?”

In addition to taking all the guilty into account, the group seems convinced a well-woven conspiracy has succeeded in achieving selective, politically colored justice. If there is indeed a conspiracy, then there should be merit in lifting the rug to see what has been swept under it.

Our public, victims of the stealing, must know the whole story.

 

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