Confronting the Continuing Power Crisis

Nov 29

Power rates in the Philippines are the highest in Asia and rank fifth in the world.  Brownouts lasting several hours a day have plagued Mindanao during the last few months and the Department of Energy (DOE) warns of disruptions and shortages in the near future in Luzon.  Thus, it was not surprising that at the hearings on the 2013 budget at the House of Representatives, DOE received the most intensive interpellation of all the executive agencies–far more intensive, in fact, than the Department of Social Welfare and Development, which had been expected to draw most of the legislators’ attention owing to the P44 billion allocation for its Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT) program. What was surprising, though, was unlike last year, the DOE declared itself open to reexamining the most controversial mechanisms that have, in the opinion of consumer watchdog groups, contributed to the unending ascent of power prices. Delaying Open Access One of these mechanisms is “Open Access” in the retail energy market.  Originally scheduled for implementation this October, an Open Access Regime would allow electricity end-users with an average monthly peak demand of one megawatt (MW) to choose their electricity service supplier.  Labor and consumer groups have charged that with electricity distribution highly monopolized, the power providers will still be able to informally set prices even under open access, thus defeating the purpose of power sector reform, which is to bring down the cost of power.   Moreover, whatever profits they might have to forego in the case of the big industrial users (which will be the users primarily served by an open access regime) can be regained from residential consumers who will not have the same freedom of choice. Interestingly, I was able during the hearings to extract a promise from the DOE that it would consider the deferment of Open Access during the budget deliberations.  After the DOE budget sponsor, Rep. Jun Abaya, made this concession in the formal exchange, then Secretary Rene Almendras went up to me and told me, “We have the same fears about open access.  It won’t work in a captive market.”  And then the most pleasant surprise of all:  shortly after the budget hearings, the Electricity Regulatory Commission (ERC) informed the public...

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China’s Transformation: A Southeast Asian Perspective

Nov 14

Over the last week, China has been undergoing a once-in-a-decade leadership transition.  It is an event that will have major implications for China’s neighbors in Southeast Asia.  Given this, it might be worthwhile to review the changing appreciation of the momentous developments in China on the part of people in our region, using my generation—the so-called “baby boomer generation”–as an example. Many in my generation in Southeast Asia came of age during the tempestuous years of the Mao era, when China was seeking to assert itself as a revolutionary beacon in contrast to the Soviet Union and undergoing the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution.  Many were radicalized by the twin forces of the struggle of the Vietnamese for national liberation against the United States and China’s bid for revolutionary leadership in the third world. Mao and Southeast Asian Youth Throughout Southeast Asia in the 1960’s, young radicals gravitated away from the established pro-Soviet communist parties that had been dominant for four decades and went on to form new communist parties on the Chinese model.  In the Philippines, the Communist Party was reestablished in December 1968 and the New People’s Army was founded in March 1969.  The Chinese imprint was very visible:  the basic strategy was to surround the city from the countryside in a “protracted people’s war,” relying on the peasantry as the main force of the revolution, not the urban working class. Many in my generation were attracted by this vision of revolution that put the emphasis on the armed struggle, as opposed to the centrality of the parliamentary struggle that was then regarded as the trademark of the pro-Soviet communist parties.  I would say, however, that what led some of us to join the organized left in the early 1970’s was not so much its revolutionary promise but its being the only force that seemed capable of resisting the Marcos dictatorship that was foisted on the country in 1972. I think that in so far as being a developmental model during that period, China’s break with the rapid industrialization model espoused by the Soviet Union struck a resonant chord among intellectuals in countries where more than two thirds of the work force was in the countryside and the...

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Obama’s victory: How it happened and what it means

Nov 08

Washington, DC, Nov 7, 2012–The polls had pointed to a very close election, and those of us who gathered around a television set here in a friend’s house in Washington, D.C., expected to be up till 3 a.m. to find out the final results. But by around 11:15 p.m. (US East Coast time), it was all over. All the major television networks projected a victory for Barack Obama in most of the so-called battleground states. In Florida, Colorado, Virginia, and especially the so-called bell-weather state, Ohio, without which no Republican candidate has coasted to victory since 1964, Obama had won a majority, and only in one of those states, Florida, was his edge paper-thin. Both the Obama and Romney campaign had waged a fierce ground war in those states, battling county by county. The Romney offensive was to either retake counties which had gone for Obama in 2008 or reduce his lead there. Obama’s team essentially placed defense, relying essentially on bringing out the vote. Making sure women, African-Americans, and Latinos—Obama’s power base—voted meant bringing thousands of young volunteers from all over the country to drive people to the polls. Talking to voters at Newark Airport I expected the results to be much closer, given my sampling of voters during a brief stopover at Newark’s Liberty Airport on my way down to Washington on election day. Hub airports like Newark are good places to conduct sampling since they bring together people coming from all over the country and from all social classes. My sample was undeniably unscientific, though the ten respondents I talked to in one hour’s time before I had to report to my gate were picked randomly. Five said they were going for Romney, and four for Obama, with one “undecided” voter leaning towards Obama. The pro-Romney people were more heated when talking about why they were going for the Republican candidate. One said, “I’m a fiscal conservative and this president has been taking the country down the path of European socialism.” Another, an avowed born-again Christian woman, said, “I’m against Obama because he’s pro-abortion.” The responses of the pro-Obama people were more moderate. A white bus driver said, “He needs four more years to do what...

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