Got a call from someone very upset because a bunch of nursing students in the province who signed up with a review center, discovered that the review center absconded with the kids’ money leaving them in the lurch. The review center promised to register the kids for the PRC exams in June, but the kids found out they were never registered. Have asked for details.
My column for today is The scientific imperative , was inspired by a FilipinoVoices.com entry, and ended up about pig poop and alternative sources of electricity and a kid’s speech (which you can watch via a link in Atheista.net or read online, see Fish mucus and foot fungus – Gian Dapul ; check out Random Thoughts who points to a Filipina who’s won a research prize in the UK).
The point and counterpoint continues: Meralco accused: ‘Ghost deliveries’: Solon hurls new charge vs Meralco; Meralco denies Villafuerte rap: ‘Gas was banked’. Banked? After elaborate explanations, it may make sense, but this is the sort of thing that gives the Villafuertes ample ammunition.
Rene Azurin, in his column today, says restructuring is overdue but people aren’t being precise with their language. I’ll reproduce his column in full:
Are the National Power Corp.’s generation charges and overpriced coal purchases or the Manila Electric Company’s systems losses and questionable pass-on charges or the Energy Regulatory Commission’s look-the-other-way lapses to blame for high electricity rates? If the Electric Power Industry Reform Act of 2001, or EPIRA, had been fully implemented as specified within three years after its passage, there would be no need for the congressional inquiries now being conducted on the matter.
Actually, the Joint Congressional Power Commission’s time should be spent looking into why there has been a lot of foot dragging on the implementation of the EPIRA and ensuring that there is no further delay. Obviously, it is not in the best interest of certain parties to see the main objectives of EPIRA - “open access” and retail competition in the electric power industry sector - achieved. In fact, it is disingenuous of some parties - including certain members of Congress - to be publicly branding EPIRA a failure, considering that it has not yet been fully implemented. One should suspect that those demanding that EPIRA be scrapped because “it has failed to bring down electricity costs” are really only pushing the agenda of those who are now profiting handsomely from the present situation in the power sector. Clearly, some people want things to remain just as they are.
In the recent Philippine Energy Summit, the workshop module tackling electric power rates concluded - after listening to the views and arguments of various industry participants and user groups - that introducing open competition in the power sector, improving efficiencies in power systems management, and developing the competencies of industry regulators in tariff-setting methodologies were the main ingredients needed to reduce electricity rates to the lowest level possible. Thus, the most urgent priority action recommended by that workshop was “fast-tracking” the full implementation of EPIRA. Today, that essentially means accelerating the privatization of another two or three of the government-owned NPC’s power generation plants and the auctioning to private administrators of the management of at least 70% of the supply contracts NPC now has with independent power producers.
What fully implementing EPIRA will do is fundamentally change the structure of the electric power industry. Putting at least 70% of the electric power now generated or controlled by NPC into several private hands ends government’s monopoly over electric power generation and NPC’s current monopoly of all coal purchases as well. Removing from electricity distribution utilities, like MECO, the option of selecting the suppliers of power to their respective franchise areas and turning over these choices to the end-users themselves ends the monopsony (the single-buyer structure) long enjoyed by distribution utilities. Allowing privileged entities the exercise of monopolistic or monopsonistic power, of course, is almost never good for the general public.
In the “open access” environment to be created by EPIRA, every power generating plant connected to the electric grid can compete for the business of every customer likewise connected to the grid (no matter where located). The various operating power plants will therefore be forced to offer lower rates or better service in order to attract and sell power to the customers they want. In the restructured industry environment, distribution utilities become merely conduits, or highways, for electricity to pass from power generator to electricity end-user. Like toll highways, these distribution utilities will only be entitled to a specified toll fee (called a “wheeling charge”) for the use of their wire network. They will have been deprived of any ability to choose to use up first the power generated by sister companies in the generation side of the business.
Regulation is not the answer to bringing down electricity prices. As history has proven time and time again - just review the American (therefore, presumably corruption-minimized) examples of the Interstate Commerce Commission that controlled entry into the railway and trucking business or the Federal Aviation Authority prior to air industry deregulation or the Food and Drug Administration whose policies continue to favor (even if this may be unintended) big pharmaceutical companies today -regulation invariably results in higher prices for the consuming public and higher profits for the “regulated” entities. Open competition, even when it is chaotic and messy and unpredictable, somehow always ends up producing outcomes more favorable to the consuming public than the orderly and more stable conditions of a regulated industry environment.
The EPIRA is one of the rare examples of enlightened legislation, and it would be tragic for the Filipino public if the vested interests fighting a rear guard action finally succeed in derailing its implementation or getting it scrapped altogether. Most likely, this will be done under the guise of proposing amendments or “improvements” to the present law. We need to be aware of this. With the provisions in the EPIRA already mandating privatization and open access and retail competition, we need only put these in force so that we consumers no longer have to worry about NPC purchasing overpriced coal or MECO passing on inflated system losses and own-debt expenses to consumers or government regulators unable (or unwilling) to figure out what’s going on while permitting too-high rates. We would just need to choose the lowest cost electricity provider for our particular area and our specific circumstances, and to heck with the rest.
Open competition, we will find, will do wonders in reducing the inefficiencies and corruption that are natural consequences of monopolized power and that contribute significantly to raising electricity rates. It will also spur investments in efficiency-boosting technologies and more economically viable plant capacities. This is good. For us consumers, it is better that we put our fates in the vagaries of a competitive and objective and impersonal marketplace than in the hands of monopolists and monopsonists and regulators. Those creatures are not our friends.
Bong Austero writes in his column about prepaid electricity:
The system is quite simple. A special prepaid meter is installed in lieu of the usual electric meters. The prepaid meter contains indicators that show up how much electricity credits are still available as well as a keypad which consumers can use to input electric load credits which they buy in increments of 100 pesos. The meter automatically shuts down a household’s electricity system as soon as the credits are consumed.
Unlike the ordinary meters which only record consumption and which require a “reader” to monitor, the prepaid meter allows consumers to plan their electricity consumption more effectively. Because they pay for the electricity in advance, the impact of the expense is immediately felt compared to the usual system which in effect makes consumers automatically at debt to the power supplier.
There are many benefits that can be derived from implementing a prepaid electricity system. Obviously, there is no need for additional manpower to serve as meter readers. This translates into lower overhead costs for power suppliers. Theoretically, power suppliers are also prevented from charging systems losses to consumers although of course we all know that as we have learned in the case of Meralco, there are many creative ways to milk consumers dry. Long queues at payment stations as well as for other services are also done away.
It’s a system that is working quite well in Tacloban City. I was told by electric cooperative personnel that the same system is being implemented in other cities such as Palawan, Cebu and even in Baguio.
AM radio last night was painting dramatic word pictures of labor officials deliberating on whether to grant wage increases. The President won’t give details but Arroyo says Metro workers assured of P20 wage increase. A Palace ally isn’t happy: Wage hike to trigger downsizing – employer group. Meanwhile, the President proclaims a conditional fiesta: GMA orders release of P12.6B in IRA.
This is remarkable: SWS: English proficiency of Filipinos improves.
Do consider donating to the Red Cross for the purpose of China, Burma, or Negros Occidental disaster relief. Contact the nearest Philippine National Red Cross chapter.
Apparently, as Jeric Peña blogged, a text message went around yesterday predicting an earthquake. People got nervous. So a clarification: USGS: Earthquakes can’t be predicted. But bloggers in China are discussing the possibility a prediction was made, but ignored.
Global Voices Online sets up a page focused on Sichuan Earthquake 2008, consolidating links to blogger accounts, photos, videos, etc. The New York Times carries an analysis of A Rescue in China, Uncensored, pointing to how the Chinese government’s been fairly liberal about keeping the public informed:
In its zigzagging pursuit of a more nimble and effective form of authoritarian rule, China may be having a defining moment. Its harsh crackdown on discontented Tibetans bore the hallmarks of Beijing’s hard-line impulses. But its decision on Tuesday to scale back the elaborate domestic leg of the Olympic torch relay - after a flood of Internet protests calling it insensitive – is a sign that officials are not deaf to public sentiment.
At least at first. The Financial Times reports Beijing reins in coverage of quake:
A meeting of the party’s most powerful propaganda officials on Tuesday stressed the importance of “correct guidance of public opinion” and ordered a strengthening of political consciousness among journalists.
All frontline coverage of the disaster should “uphold unity and encourage stability” while “giving precedence to positive propaganda”, ordered Li Changchun, a member of the party’s supreme Politburo standing committee, the People’s Daily reported.
But certainly, there’s been an impressive sense of national solidarity on the part of the Chinese. In contrast, in Burma, people have been hard-pressed to get relief or express themselves. Read Juan Mercado’s ‘Malign rapacity’.An interesting observation is in Myanmar: Voices through Tweets.
In A Tale of Two Devastated Countries, John Berthelsen details the Burmese junta’s madness and the cyclone’s long-term effects:
Although aid flights finally began to arrive in Burma over the weekend, a full week after the disaster, the delays in flights and visas for relief workers and the confiscation of emergency supplies have multiplied the misery for millions. The junta followed up its inaction with two remarkable actions — the first to hold a rigged constitutional referendum while the country was still in the initial stages of digging itself out of the disaster and to dragoon its citizens into a yes vote by intimidation, and second, according to The Observer, continue to export rice to Bangladesh and Sri Lanka even as it tried to curb the influx of international donations.
According to relief organizations, Burma will need as much as 500,000 tonnes of rice and perhaps as much as 2 million tonnes to meet subsistence levels for most of its population in the wake of Cyclone Nargis, which wiped out 65 percent of the rice-growing capability of the Irrawaddy Delta. The country had expected to export 600,000 tonnes in 2008. According to several estimates, Burma, once the biggest rice-exporting nation in Asia, will be forced to import to make up shortages for years to come.
Satellite imagery showed that a 16-meter storm surge pushed salt water 40km inland in the delta. According to the International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines, it can take up to a year to leach out the salt, depending on the kind of soil, the amount of rainfall and whether farmers plant salt-resistant varieties of rice. The storm, unimpeded because protective mangrove forests had been destroyed for prawn farming and additional rice paddies, destroyed everything in its path, as well as drowning as many as 100,000 people.
Nonetheless, according to The Observer, sacks of rice destined for Bangladesh were being loaded on to a ship at the Thilawa container port at the mouth of the Rangoon River at the end of last week, even though the rice-bowl region had been literally destroyed by the deadly storm. The paper quoted the regime as saying it planned to meet all of its contractual commitments.
On a related note, the RGE Monitor today asks, How Is China Going to Feed Its Population? Agriculture Abroad? The blog China financial markets says The devastating earthquake is also bad for monetary policy.
Meanwhile, The Economist, in Let them eat Juche , says even if out of sight and out of mind, the North Koreans go starving on:
Good Friends, a Buddhist human-rights group in South Korea, says that in rural areas families are again adding tree-bark and grass to their diet, and foraging for food in the wild. It says that in South Pyongan province in west-central North Korea, people are already dying of starvation, while listless farmers ignore officials’ calls to plant this year’s rice. Last month the World Food Programme (WFP) called for urgent help to avert a “serious tragedy”.
Then on a global note, in The BRICs (and Mortar) of the New Global Economy, the Asia Sentinel’s correspondent says the United States has dissipated its wealth, and that:
The true dimensions of the changes heralded by the end of the Cold War are only now becoming clear. The world looks headed for a gigantic economic boom. Massive economic prizes will go to the producing economies. Economies that produce less than they consume can expect some economic and political shocks. Investors should beware and construct their portfolios accordingly.
Which sounds very discouraging for the Philippines, which seems to consume more than it produces when it comes to nearly everything.
The obvious question that can once again be asked of Arroyo is the same as that asked of President Nixon during the Watergate scandal:
What did the President know and when did (s)he know it?
And Blog@AWBHoldings.com can’t help but point out that the President’s designated Heckle & Jeckle need to pause and ponder what they’re saying:
The first salvo came from Golez, who said that the witness should charge Gloria Arroyo in the courts. Of course, let us pardon Golez’ ignorance of the law (even if ignorance is not an excuse, as per Civil Code), and tell him gently that we cannot sue Gloria criminally since his amo enjoys immunity from any suit. And to remove that immunity, she has to be impeached first. But, the House of Reprehensibles will never do that, however substantial the impeachment complaint is. Golez tries to be cute, but he instead insults every consciously-thinking (there are those who chose not to think) Filipinos.
Oh, he continued trying to be cute, first by stating that the meeting with ZTE officials were official. Mr. Golez, if it was official, how come it was not reported in the media? How come there was no press release? Second, he said that the picture hasn’t prove anything malicious, that there was nothing wrong with Gloria playing golf with her husband. Well, this proves that delicadeza is dead, a Filipino value that is left forgotten, for it hinders corruption. Mr. Golez, there is nothing wrong with a president of a country courting foreign investors. But to do so in secret is not right. And who paid for the golf game? Can you show us some receipts, please?
The second salvo came from Fajardo, the most effective spokeswoman that Gloria has ever hired. First, she admitted that her amo met with ZTE officials, confirming part of what that witness had said: that Gloria did had a meeting with ZTE officials, and insisted that it was not a secret. Ms. Fajardo, please read my comments to your colleague’s failed attempts to be cute, you might learn a thing or two.
And what she had said next implicitly stated the rationale for the Fortress’ attack against Meralco: it is a diversion, plain and simple. She said that the public should not be diverted from the true issue at hand, which is high power rates. Kaboom! There you go!
The Marocharim Experiment comments on the creation of the Judicial Executive Legislative Advisory and Consultative Council (JELAC). An ominous blurring of the lines that ought to keep the different branches of government separate? It’s not as if Presidents haven’t consulted the Supreme Court in the past. My own view is, another pointless innovation when an institution already exists, the Council of State, which was the subject of a new executive issuance in 2003.
Yesterday, I talked to Rachel Khan’s class and she generously blogged about in khanterbury tales. One of her students hated the whole experience, though, see Sirang Plaka for a no-holds-barred critique. Perhaps it may have been more productive to distribute and discuss The civic imperative: a reflection, (see my blog entry for March 21, 2008 as well).
Could this possibly be true, or too much of an extrapolation? Study: Philippines has 2.3 million bloggers.