Monthly Archives: August 2012

Meralco to venture into wind energy

Wow. At last a large Philippine power utility expanding to generate wind energy. I hope more will follow to help the country lead in the region in renewable energy.

Meralco eyes Ilocos wind farm

Part of expansion into renewable energy

By: 

Wednesday, August 22nd, 2012

Leading power distributor Manila Electric Co. plans to venture into the renewable energy-generation businessbeginning with an investment in a potential 300-megawatt wind farm in Laoag, Ilocos Norte, the company’s chief executive said.

 

The entry into the renewable energy sector is part of Meralco’s plan to install 2,500 MW in new generation capacity between now and 2020, using part of the leeway allowed by the energy deregulation law for it to generate relative to its distribution volume, Meralco president Oscar Reyes told the Inquirer.

 

Reyes said Meralco was also looking at liquefied natural gas-fired plants for diversification purposes.

 

He added that Meralco was addressing the issues delaying the 600-MW coal-fired power plant project in Subic Bay freeport, which is being undertaken by subsidiary Meralco PowerGen Corp. through a joint-venture (Redondo Peninsula Energy) with the Aboitiz group.

 

“We’re also in discussions for a potential renewable facility in Laoag,” Reyes said, pointing out that more than 300 MW in capacity was being considered for the facility in Ilocos Norte.

 

Asked whether Meralco was happy with the recently approved feed-in-tariffs (FIT) for renewable energy, Reyes said the important thing would be to locate the renewable energy facility in an area considered robust in terms of efficiency and load factor so that it would be possible to make good returns even under competitive tariff rates.

 

“We would rather rely on an efficient plant for a return rather than (on) high feed-in tariff that involves some form of support from consumer,” Reyes said.

 

The Energy Regulatory Commission recently approved the much-awaited FIT rates for four renewable energy resources, which represents the subsidy consumers will bear to give incentives to the industry: P9.68 a kilowatt-hour for solar; P8.53/kWh for wind; P6.63/kWh for biomass; and P5.90/kWh for hydropower projects. The ERC deferred fixing the FIT rates for ocean thermal energy conversion resource for further study and data gathering.

 

“The more you get grid-competitive rate, the better it is for the consumer,” Reyes said.

The Threat of Solar Power

This article discusses the impact of solar power on the Australian energy market and its threat to power utilities. For some reason I suspect the fear of Australian utilities may be also the same in the Philippines. But unlike Australia, we have yet to see the common use of solar power to help consumers in their power needs. While there is a renewable energy law which grants incentives and feed-in-tariffs for solar energy generation, it remains to be seen whether local utilities will allow excess power generated to flow to the grid.

From Leading Company

Who’s afraid of solar PV?

23 August 2012 Mike Sandiford

The recent take-up of domestic solar photo-voltaic (PV) panels in Australia has been quite phenomenal. Across 2010 and 2011, the installed capacity increased seven fold to about 1.4 gigawatts, doubling every 9 months.

By the end of this year we will probably have in excess of 2 gigawatts of solar PV capacity installed. All fired up at the same time it is enough to produce about 8% of the average daytime electricity demand.

Of course, a characteristic of solar PV is that it doesn’t fire up for much of the time at all. With a capacity factor of about 18%, 2 gigawatts capacity would be expected to output an average of no more than 360 megawatts or about 1.5% of our average demand. At those levels you might ask if solar PV is having any impact on our demand for mains electricity.

Judging by the numbers, the answer is a definitive “yes”. In fact, so much so that it wouldn’t surprise if it is beginning to worry some utility managers.

Since solar PV production rises and falls in a characteristic pattern through the daylight hours, any substantive impact should be evident in a distinct reduction in demand for mains electricity in the middle of the day. With PV penetration having risen so dramatically since 2009, that pattern should be apparent in comparisons of demand over the last 12 months with equivalent periods prior to 2009.

In fact when we do this, the PV signature is blindingly obvious, especially in the states of South Australia and Queensland where PV penetration is highest. It is also showing itself in the revenues generated by electricity sold on the wholesale market.

In South Australia, midday to early afternoon demand was down over the financial year 2011-12 by about 8% on the average for the period spanning mid- 2007 through mid-2009. That contrasted with a negligible change in demand outside daylight hours.

In Queensland the story is very similar, although the proportional impact is lower with midday 2011-12 demand down only about 4% on 2007-09 levels.

Given the extent to which PV has been rolled out in the last few years, the characteristic signature of demand reduction in the middle of the day is not particularly surprising. What is more interesting is the signature of PV penetration in the wholesale electricity market.

As pointed out in this column a few weeks back, demand reduction is creating oversupply in the wholesale electricity market and causing prices to collapse.

And it is the afternoon and early evening when the wholesale market makes its money, because that is when demand is highest. So any decline in demand in the afternoon will take much of the cream out of the market.

In the period prior to significant PV penetration, hourly revenues on the South Australian wholesale market typically peaked at 3-4 pm in the afternoon at 5 times above base revenues. By 2011-12 those peaks were gone. Even though PV generation is tailing off significantly by 4 pm, the demand reduction was still enough to reduce peak hourly revenues by almost 90% between 2007-09 and 2011-12, contributing to a 30% decline in the annual wholesale revenue.

In Queensland, 2011-12 midday revenues were down 50% on 2007-09 averages, contributing to an annual revenue fall of about 18%.

Across the National Electricity Market, 2011-12 revenues were down 35%, or some $3.3 billion, on the annual $9.6 billion for the two years prior to mid-2009.

These represent massive impacts on the business of electricity. With PV being a major causal factor, things are are only likely to get worse if solar PV deployment continues at the recent frenetic pace.

It will only take several more doublings in capacity, or about 18 months if recent history is any guide, to reduce midday demand to current midnight levels. That would render the midday to early afternoon period akin to the current overnight ‘off-peak’. In such a scenario, the window of opportunity for healthy margin on mains electricity supply will shrink to just a few hours during the evening peak. With that need best supplied by gas “peakers” such a scenario must be making for some anxiety amongst the managers of our base-load coal generation fleet.

In such a scenario, the cost of delivering mains power will have to rise. That is because while the distribution network needs to be scaled to the size of peak demand, it recoups investment over the total amount of electricity supplied through day and night. With solar PV biting into the daytime demand but barely shaving peak demand, the unit cost of distribution will inevitably rise. Distribution is already the major factor in retail electricity prices.

The problematic feedback is evident. Rising retail prices will further incentivise take up of domestic PV, which in turn drives retail prices even higher. Meanwhile, further deployment of PV helps reduce its costs making it even more attractive, and so on ad infinitum, at least until most household roofs are covered.

A potential nightmare facing the mains electricity industry has recently been acknowledged by the AGL economists Paul Simshauser and Tim Nelson in their paper “The Energy Market Death Spiral – Rethinking Customer Hardship”. In that paper the “death spiral” scenario for the Australian power industry is framed by a quote from a US study by Craig Severance.

The unspoken fear of all utility managers is the “Death Spiral Scenario”. In this nightmare, a utility commits to build new equipment. However, when electric rates are raised to pay for the new plant, the rate shock moves customers to cut their kWh use. The utility then raises its rates even higher – causing a further spiral as customers cut their use even more… In the final stages of that death spiral, the more affluent customers drastically cut purchases by implementing efficiency and on-site power, but the poorest customers have been unable to finance such measures…

It is not hard to imagine how utility managers here in Australia are worrying about just how PV is going to impact their business.

This article first appeared on The Conversation.

Opportunity lost on Renewable energy

If the Philippine government does not act quickly, it will lose the opportunity of first mover advantage in the development of renewable energy in the region. The catch-up mentality should not happen on matters we already have a lead.

 

Difficult road ahead for renewable energy sector

By: 

Monday, August 20th, 2012

The renewable energy sector in the Philippines is in danger of “dropping behind” its five other neighbors in the Asean given the delays in the implementation of the necessary mechanisms that will drive the growth of this industry, according to a global independent market research firm.

 

In a July 2012 paper titled “Meeting the Energy Challenge in South East Asia,” the Ipsos BusinessConsulting, the market intelligence and strategy consulting division of Ipsos, said the Philippines was still by far the most developed market with an existing capacity of 5,439 megawatts, or 56 percent of total installed RE capacity across the six key Asean countries, which also include Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam and Singapore.

 

“The situation, however, can change rapidly as all Asean governments are committed to developing renewable sources of energy,” said Colin Kinghorn, head of consulting for Thailand, Indonesia and Vietnam of Ipsos.

 

“Though the formulation of the National Renewable Energy Program (NREP) by the Department of Energy affirms the government’s commitment to accelerate exploration and development of RE, remaining challenges for the Philippines include details of policies, programs, guidelines and support currently under development. These include feed-in-tariffs, renewable portfolio standards, net metering and an RE trust fund,” Kinghorn explained.

 

It was only last month that the feed-in-tariff rates were issued, almost four years after the Renewable Energy Law was enacted.

 

Ipsos said it still believed that the Philippines—one of only two countries in Southeast Asia where renewable energy approaches commercial viability—still had a strong potential of achieving its RE targets despite facing some regulatory hurdles that have slowed down the implementation of the Renewable Energy Law.

 

Based on the NREP, the Philippine government is pushing for a three-fold increase in the use of RE resources to more than 15,000 megawatts within a 20-year period, with expected investments seen reaching roughly a P1 trillion.

Mobile opportunities abound in the Philippines

Imagine all the various types of online and mobile services available in Australia and having a potential big market in the Philippines. Let’s help bring the best of Australian web and mobile apps to Manila.

From BusinessWorld Philippines

August 16, 2012

Mobile market growth in the Philippines

WITH MOBILE phone penetration rates reaching saturation point in the Philippines, there is room for expansion through the promotion of new services and Internet usage, according to a recent report issued by the World Bank.

In “its 2012 Information and Communications for Development: Maximising Mobile” report, released on July 18, the World Bank said that there were 101 mobile phone subscriptions for every 100 Filipinos, with prepaid subscriptions accounting for 96% of the total. The subscriber rate has jumped sharply since 2005, when there were just 41 phone owners per 100 people. The Philippines has an excellent coverage area for a developing nation, with 99% of the country having network access.

According to Rachel Kyte, the vice-president for sustainable development at the World Bank, mobile phones have revolutionized daily life in many communities such as the Philippines and hold the promise of even more advantages in the future.

“Mobile communications offer major opportunities to advance human and economic development — from providing basic access to health information to making cash payments, spurring job creation and stimulating citizen involvement in democratic processes,” Kyte said in a statement accompanying the report’s release. “The challenge now is to enable people, businesses and governments in developing countries to develop their own locally relevant mobile applications so they can take full advantage of these opportunities.”

It appears that, at least in some instances, those opportunities are being seized. The Philippines was singled out by the World Bank for its innovative use of mobile phone technology in the delivery of state services. Among the agencies rated worthy of mention was the Department of Education, which has collaborated with the Affiliated Network for Social Accountability in East Asia and the Pacific to establish a Web site that allows citizens to view significant statistics on local schools.

The report describes the site — checkmyschool.org — as a government-to-citizen online and mobile-based interactive tool that includes information such as budget allocations, teacher and textbook information and test scores for about one-fifth of the 44,000 schools in the country, while also allowing feedback and communication between parents and teachers.

The payoff from such services is high value, according to the World Bank; through the improvement of education service delivery through transparent and accountable behavior, the Web site has also increased community participation and improved teacher behavior.

“These efforts are typically innovative, as they often change the delivery or management of a conventional service or process,” the report said.

While penetrations rates have reached saturation point, there could be some room for additional subscriptions, but only if operators offered different services. Currently, options available to customers are fairly standard across the board, with companies generally providing variations on a theme when it comes to applications and packages. The potential for movement between operators exists, mainly based on cost-cutting to subscribers, though tariffs from services providers are also largely similar.

One area where there is significant growth within mobile phone usage is in financial transactions. According to estimates of the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas — the central bank — some 8 million or more Filipinos use their mobile devices to make bill payments and conduct other banking-related activities.

The single-largest use for banking is overseas workers transferring money to their families back in the Philippines. With remittances by Filipinos working abroad being one of the most important sources of foreign currency transfer into the national economy, accounting for almost $2 billion a month, this is a niche that could expand further, with operators also having the opportunity to extend such services.

The World Bank report did identify one field where the Philippines lagged behind its neighbours: Internet access through mobile devices. Just 23.1% of Filipino mobile phone owners have broadband subscriptions, while only 9.8% of the population use mobile Internet. This is one area that service providers can target to increase revenue in the coming years.

While expansion in subscriber numbers will be sluggish in the future, it will be up to operators to offer a diversified range of quality services if they want to maintain earnings growth. Having achieved blanket national coverage and brimming subscription levels, the goal will now be to improve quality rather than aim for quantity.

Article location : http://www.bworldonline.com/content.php?section=Economy&title=Mobile market growth in the Philippines&id=56974

 

Philippine power costs ranked 9th most expensive

Its nice to know the cost of power is not the most expensive only the 9th most expensive. Perfect opportunities for an energy efficiency venture.

From BusinessWorld Philippines

August 16, 2012

Meralco electricity ninth most expensive — survey

PHILIPPINE power rates, particularly those of Manila Electric Co. (Meralco), ranked as the ninth highest among 44 territories as of January, according to results of a survey presented during a hearing at the Senate yesterday of the Joint Congressional Power Commission on regional comparison of retail electricity prices.

The survey, conducted by Perth-based International Energy Consultants (IEC), identified the top 10 jurisdictions with most expensive power rates as Hawaii, Italy, Malta, Japan, Cyprus, Germany, Denmark, Netherlands, Philippines and Singapore. The Philippines was also cited as having the most expensive electricity in Southeast Asia.

“Meralco is comparable with Singapore, Australia, Netherlands and Denmark but significantly higher than several other countries within the Asia-Pacific Region which benefit from heavily subsidized rates,” IEC managing director and lead consultant John Morris said during the hearing.

In terms of commercial retail tariff, the Philippines ranked sixth among the 44 jurisdictions, with its $0.2043 per kilowatt hour (/kWh), exclusive of value added tax (VAT), 31% above the average among the 44 jurisdictions. The Philippines’ $0.1728/kWh industrial retail tariff was also sixth highest and 26% above the average, while its $0.2485/kWh residential retail tariff was 17th highest and 13% above average.

“Several neighboring countries like Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, Korea and Taiwan have average tariffs that are much lower than Meralco’s…due to government policies to provide subsidies of up to 50% to consumers,” Mr. Morris explained.

“IEC believes that providing subsidies via lower tariffs is bad economic practice and ultimately unsustainable. When subsidies are added back to retail tariffs, the true cost of electricity in these countires rises to a level that is much closer to Meralco’s,” he added. —Danessa O. Rivera

Article location : http://www.bworldonline.com/content.php?section=Economy&title=Meralco electricity ninth most expensive survey&id=56978

Pinoys are more waterproof than Italians

Reading this article somehow tells me Filipinos are better in surviving life’s biggest challenges. No wonder we have the ability to smile even in the most difficult of situations.

From BusinessWorld Philippines

August 15, 2012

Economic crisis tests Italian family

ROME — In happier times, ice-cream seller Antonio Siracusa would have considered turning to relatives for help when he lost his job in a cinema in Rome.

But these are not happy times.

So Siracusa chooses to go to a free canteen run by Christians in the district of Trastevere for dinner, and picks up free food parcels for other meals.

“I have siblings, but I don’t want anything from them,” said Siracusa, as he stood in line at the Sant’Egidio charity’s diner, adding that he didn’t feel comfortable bothering them in such tough economic times.

“The community here are my family.”

A deep recession and rising unemployment has piled pressure on all Italians and may even be undermining Italy’s most reliable social safety net in periods of financial difficulty — the family.

Christian charities say many Italians appear to be ashamed of turning to relatives already struggling in the economic crisis or are coping with the effects of divorce, the incidence of which has doubled in Italy since 1995.

Youth unemployment, at about 35%, is keeping sons and daughters at home even into their 30s and causing them to delay starting families of their own, while pension cuts have increased the additional support needed by the elderly.

“Social security in Italy has traditionally been the family. The problem is that families have become overloaded in the present crisis,” said Augusto D’Angelo, who works at the Sant’Egidio diner.

The state has never offered a comprehensive jobless benefits system, and the debt crisis has forced it to further curb spending, limit pensions and hike taxes as part of austerity measures aimed at reining in strained public finances.

The Church, which still has strong influence in Italy despite a steady erosion in regular attendance numbers in recent years, has been stepping in where the family or government has failed to provide.

“If you go to the town hall for help, there are fixed responses, which they find it hard to deviate from. Church structures can be more flexible,” D’Angelo said.

Unemployed barman Paride Santilli, 57, said he turns to his priest when he needs a warm meal, medicine or a new pair of shoes.

“When you go to the Church, they don’t give you money, but they help you get what you need,” said Santilli, who has no extended family to rely on.

“They sorted out a public transport pass for me, and some contact lenses.”

The number of Italians coming each evening to the Trastevere canteen has risen to about 200-250 from 100-150 about a year ago, D’Angelo said. Requests for food parcels that people can take home have also risen by at least 10%.

Pensioner Maria, 77, started coming more frequently after her landlady raised her room rate to 300 euros from 250 euros, burning more than three-quarters of her monthly income. “I have to go to various free food handouts around Rome for breakfast, lunch and dinner,” she said, adding that she did have relatives in Turin but preferred to get by without them.

The crisis is fuelling feelings of anxiety, uncertainty and anger and causing tensions within families, according to Paolo Cruciani, psychology professor at Rome’s La Sapienza University and vice-president of the Lazio region’s guild of psychologists. “The ideal response is for family members to pull together, but we see explosions of conflict, with relatives accusing each other of not having made enough pension provisions,” Cruciani said.

“This can create internal crises: children develop distrust of parents, and mothers and fathers face anxiety because they worry they have not properly provided for their offspring. Meanwhile, elderly people face shame and desperation when they find their pensions don’t cover their needs.”

The number of people living in absolute poverty in Italy, a country of about 60 million, rose to 3.4 million in 2011, or 5.7%, up from 5.2% in 2010, data from statistics office ISTAT showed.

Those living in relative poverty for Italian standards were roughly stable at 8.2 million, or 13.6%. But among families with no workers and no pensioners, the relative poverty rate rose to 51% from 40%.

“People who used to live a dignified life now find they are having to beg for food,” said Francesco Soddu, head of Catholic charity Caritas Italiana, at a church conference on poverty in Naples.

Santilli, the barman, said he had started volunteering at another free soup kitchen. “You have to be hard, keep busy and make intelligent choices,” he said. “I am worried about the crisis but I’m not crying, if you cry then it’s all over.” — Reuters

Article location : http://www.bworldonline.com/content.php?section=Opinion&title=Economic crisis tests Italian family&id=56878

Philippine political maturity sooner than later

In the Philippines, being a celebrity gives you a career opportunity for public service one which is won by election. By and large the past experience has not shown the new career to be beneficial to the country. It also not clear yet whether its also beneficial for the celebrity. What is strange is despite of this observation, the practice continues. I guess this realisation takes longer for a people whose patience is long and aspirations for a better life. Let’s hope political maturity comes sooner than later.

 

From BusinessWorld Philippines

August 09, 2012

Philippine idol

IF ERAP can be President, why can’t I be a city councilor, or a mayor — or even a congressman or senator?
No one has done a survey on it. But anecdotal evidence suggests that almost every celebrity in this country — its actors, singers, TV anchors, and at least one boxer — have at one time or another considered running for public office, and what’s more, have made good on that threat.

At the back of their minds is the example of Joseph Estrada, who after all handily won the Presidency of the Republic in 1998. He just as quickly lost it in 2001 through direct citizen action, but the fact still remains that he did win the highest elective post in the land on the strength, it seems, of little else than his movie star status.

Since he became President, Estrada has been the pole star of celebritydom, seemingly the one shining example of media power — of the power of the movies particularly. An action star during the golden age of Filipino movies, Estrada was more popular than dengue. It’s easy enough to conclude from Estrada’s example that popularity solely defined in terms of media presence and name recall is the one sure path to winning elections. Every politician therefore thinks it to his advantage to be associated with some celebrity or the other, whether as friend and associate, compadre or cohort.

Some cultivate liaisons with the nearest celebrity; others even marry one. But it doesn’t always work, as one outstanding example proved in the contest for the Vice Presidency in 2010, while previous to that some celebrities including Manny Pacquiao had been soundly defeated in the polls, in some cases even in such lowly contests as for city councilor.

Those defeats have since been interpreted as indications of electorate discernment and maturity — as signs of, finally, the voters’ developing enough of a capacity to test candidates for leadership qualities and even intelligence instead of voting for the candidate who can sing or dance best. Are they indeed, or were the celebrities involved just not popular enough — or did not quite meet electorate expectations?

In any event, the defeat at the polls of some of their brethren has resulted in some celebrity candidates’ adopting the tone and language of ordinary, meaning run-of-the-mill, politicians. They speak in English when interviewed, outline programs of government, or at least try to; they identify the problems they’d like to address once in office, whether as senator, congressman, mayor or councilor. Would-be candidate for congress Aga Mulach took this tack after his oath-taking as a member of the Liberal Party last week, carrying on as if he were a be-degree’d and pedigreed politico who sounded suspiciously like one of the lawyers Congress has a surfeit of.

Big mistake. It’s not how like garden-variety politicians they are, but how different, that makes celebrities win elections — and it’s not because they’re more photogenic, although that does count — or sound better when they speak. What sets them apart is what makes them the same — not as every other politician, but as the mass of the electorate. The Estrada mumble, for example, and his disdain for the English language, resonate among a mass audience that understands how difficult it is to articulate both thought and feeling even in one’s own tongue, and which disdains the titles and pretensions of those who speak in foreign accents.

But the mass appeal of every matinee idol this country has ever produced (think Joseph Estrada; think Fernando Poe Jr.) is more firmly based on how much the characters he plays — whether Asyong Salonga or Ang Panday — have managed to give voice to mass aspirations for a world of justice in which the evil are punished and the righteous rewarded. It’s a world unlike the one the mass audience knows, where no good deed goes unpunished, crime pays, and every crook whether porch climber or shady politician prospers. And it is exactly that world — the very opposite of what they live in and have to live with — that, once realized onscreen, is instantly recognizable among such basic classes as workers and farmers that have known injustice for most of their lives.

Inevitable that the members of the mass audience should bring to their role as the electorate approval of those who seem able to satisfy their yearning for leaders who can speak for them because they are them. When he or she votes for, say, Joseph Estrada, the voter whose only involvement in the political process is to cast his or her vote also casts a protest, and condemns a political system that calls itself democratic but denies him or her a voice in it.

As has been suggested often, such a choice is also a rejection of the titled, the pedigreed and the be-degree’d — most of them unremitting disappointments, and alien to the voter marginalized by a political system that has become the sole domain of a few — in favor of the fighter for justice and defender of the weak he so approves of onscreen. The flaw fatal in this process is the mass audience/electorate’s confusing the actor for his screen persona, which, for its studied cultivation even offscreen, is too often only an act, after all.

The 2013 elections, during which a number of celebrities will run for, among other posts, the Senate, should be, among others, not only another opportunity to discover whether the electorate has discovered its error of identifying the actor with the role. It should also be the occasion to discover how much the celebrity-candidate has understood what it is in celebrity status that so fascinates the mass of the electorate — the millions who, theoretically at least, primarily decide, if not the stability of thrones, at least the quality and capacity to govern of those who claim to represent and speak for them.

Readers may send moments and read other columns at www.luisteodoro.com. Luis V. Teodoro is on Facebook and Twitter.

Article location : http://www.bworldonline.com/content.php?section=Opinion&title=Philippine idol&id=56557

 

The nature of roads in Manila

Since I was young growing in Manila, the quality of asphalt roads in Manila is only as good as the summer season. As soon as the rainy season comes, its another story. I always wonder maybe all roads should be in concrete. I recently read this article and wonder whether its a matter of quality, governance or just the strong weather is the issue. Still, I don’t recall Ayala Avenue having similar road problems even in memories past. Hmm.

 

Melting in the rain

 

Three months – that was the life span of the asphalt laid on Roxas Boulevard for the meeting of the Board of Governors of the Asian Development Bank (ADB).

The fresh layer of asphalt looked thick enough, at about four inches, from where I sat, stuck in traffic in my car, as the road improvement was rushed in the scorching days of April, in time for the ADB meeting on May 2-5.

Now long stretches of the boulevard look like the surface of the moon. Even the overpass on EDSA is damaged; the asphalt layer on the southbound lane was dug up several days ago, in preparation for re-pavement, but I guess the work has to wait for the end of the foul weather that continued until yesterday.

I’m no civil engineer so I don’t know how long quality asphalt pavement should be able to withstand monsoon rains. But I think three months is too short (with over a month still hot summer). The expenditure for endless road repairs, from the rainy season till Christmas, is too heavy a burden on taxpayers.

Inevitably, people smell corruption, sheer incompetence, or both. For President Aquino, who likes delivering his speeches in Filipino, the observation should hit harder in our language: Kaaayos lang, sira-sira na naman? Sino na naman ang kikita dito?

The criticism may be based on speculation, but it’s not entirely baseless.

I’ve written about World Bank studies showing that road construction and repair projects are among the biggest sources of corruption in many countries.

P-Noy, who has made the battle against corruption the lynchpin of his governance, should demand better roads from state civil engineers. Roads are among the most visible aspects of governance. If more good news is what P-Noy wants, rutted roads are always bad news.

At the very least, newly repaved roads should last longer than three months. That’s not an unreasonable objective.

For road projects undertaken by private contractors, full payment should be withheld for a certain period, until the durability of the product they delivered has passed certain tests.

Like the World Bank, the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) should also debar contractors that keep delivering substandard services.

Remember the Buendia flyover that took four months to rehabilitate last year, only to disintegrate in the first heavy rain after it was opened? Taxpayers paid P87 million for that lemon, which contractor Towking Construction had to redo during the Christmas holiday rush.

Apart from requiring contractors to shoulder the cost of repairs for their shoddy work, the government should start imposing sanctions, on both the contractors and the DPWH personnel who are supposed to oversee the project.

* * *

Roxas Boulevard looked like a huge infinity pool the other day, with the waters of Manila Bay and the flood on the thoroughfare rising up to the level of the seawall.

Late in the evening, hours after the flood receded, many patches of Roxas Boulevard looked like a lunar landscape, with the worst along the southbound stretch from EDSA in Baclaran, Parañaque all the way to the end, before Coastal Road.

As of yesterday, several of the potholes had become so large and deep they were causing traffic jams as even buses and other large vehicles avoided them.

The disintegration was only aggravated by the latest weather disturbance. Since I was wondering how long the smooth pavement would last after the ADB meeting, I kept a mental note of when disintegration would start. I noticed early signs of deterioration about two weeks ago.

* * *

It was only the third massive flooding on Roxas Boulevard that I can remember in my lifetime. The first was in late September 2006, when I had to drive to the office through a boulevard blocked by toppled trees and lampposts, and flooded up to the service road with garbage-littered water several inches deep.

That flooding was understandable; it was the height of super typhoon “Milenyo” (international name Xangsane), which knocked out power in Metro Manila for several days. In the driving rain and powerful wind, my car shook so badly I worried that it would be blown away, like some trucks and shipping containers I spotted along the way.

The second time, the wind was less powerful but the flood was worse. The cause – as explained by weather experts – was so new we had to google the phenomenon: a storm surge. Typhoon “Pedring” spawned the storm surge on Sept. 27 last year, almost exactly five years to the day Milenyo struck. The surge, which sent waves up to 20 feet high crashing into land, destroyed the popular Spiral Restaurant at the Sofitel and flooded bayfront areas, from the hotel all the way to Roxas Boulevard

Ten months later, we have a “monsoon surge.” There were no 20-foot-tall waves the other day, and the flood receded quickly as the tide ebbed. By noon, all that was left on the boulevard was a sea of garbage. A swarm of scavengers helped clean up quickly, segregating the trash in separate large plastic bags for sale to recyclers.

But even before the monsoon surge, Roxas Boulevard had already started disintegrating. And it could get worse, all the way to Christmas.

P-Noy, who appears pleased with the performance of his DPWH chief, should try driving one of his favorite cars along the boulevard.

He should take a good look at where our taxes go. That’s public money, melting in the rain.

Harnessing the young talent available now

This is a novel idea in harnessing the future of the country now while they are young, willing and inspired. I wonder if other countries with similar problems like Spain and Greece can explore experimenting the same idea.

 

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer

Harnessing ‘bayanihan’

By: 

Monday, August 6th, 2012

What do you do with more than half a million Filipino college graduates who are jobless? How do you keep the increasing numbers of retired senior citizens productively occupied and help them keep from aging rapidly out of inactivity?

 

There were 2.8 million Filipinos without jobs as of last April, according to our employment statistics. Four out of five are no more than 34 years old. Our unemployed are mostly young. Sadly, one in every five is actually a college graduate. A waste of precious education, one might well be tempted to say so.

 

And yet this need not be. For about a third of what the government wants to spend next year for conditional cash transfers (CCT), the more than half a million unemployed college graduates in the country could all be gainfully occupied as volunteer development workers. They can be put to work in schools, health centers, local government units, grassroots NGOs, and other countryside institutions that could use some help from a college graduate. This is in fact already being done, albeit on a very limited scale so far, in a little-known but highly beneficial government program that has been around for many years.

 

The program is administered by the Philippine National Volunteer Service Coordinating Agency (PNVSCA), an attached agency of the National Economic and Development Authority (Neda). The agency coordinates the various foreign volunteer programs operating within the country, such as the US Peace Corps Volunteers, Japanese Overseas Cooperation Volunteers (JOCVs), World Friends Korea (WFK) and others. PNVSCA coordinates the deployment of these volunteers to achieve maximum benefits for the country. It also takes responsibility for ensuring the safety of the volunteers and making their experience in the country a personally and professionally rewarding one.

 

But what holds greater significance to me is the agency’s local volunteer program known as Volunteers for Information and Development Assistance (Vida), and the associated Bayanihang Barangay. Invoking the Filipino bayanihan spirit, volunteers are deployed to work in communities and institutions engaged in various aspects of development work. Most Vida volunteers are fresh college graduates who sign up after finding difficulty landing a job. They get a modest P2,000 monthly allowance, with the host organization expected to augment this to ensure adequate support for the volunteer’s minimum needs. A volunteer can be supported for up to three years.

 

The beauty of the program lies in how it provides a way for society to harness the talents and energies of young educated people who would otherwise be idle, and provide them a way to be of service to fellow Filipinos while gaining valuable field experience that then enhances their employability later on. Apart from experience, the volunteers gain much stronger appreciation of working at the grassroots level and solving problems where they occur. And like the various foreign volunteers who leave the comfort of home to take on such development work overseas, they are likely to come out of the experience as more responsible citizens who are better equipped for their longer term careers. This has in fact been the hallmark of alumni of the foreign volunteer programs. Thus, such programs provide a true win-win between the volunteer and the host institution or community that benefits from his/her services.

 

There’s another important segment of the population for whom a nationwide development volunteer system can be a Godsend: our senior citizen retirees. Countless members of our population from all walks of life remain healthy and productive even way past retirement, and would prefer to keep themselves meaningfully busy rather than speed up their aging through idleness. In affluent societies abroad, we see them doing volunteer work in public libraries, community centers and other places where they can continue contributing their skills, knowledge and talents for the good of the community. There is no reason why we cannot organize a program for harnessing volunteerism among Filipino senior citizens as well—and actually do them a favor even as society benefits from their help. And I suspect we would indirectly improve the general health of our senior citizens for whom fulfillment and a feeling of self-worth can be far more efficacious than medication.

 

But for all its virtues, the Vida program remains very limited, with only tens of volunteers supported by a very modest budget. In a country whose foremost challenges include high unemployment and low productivity, a nationwide volunteer program can be an important instrument for addressing these problems and more, all at the same time. It is a program that yields multiple dividends.

 

As we allot tens of billions of pesos to millions of CCT beneficiaries, I see similar benefit—maybe more—in scaling up and expanding the Vida program into a National Development Volunteer System, to support not just tens but hopefully hundreds of thousands of volunteers nationwide. Local governments could have their own parallel counterpart programs, or the national system could have them become its primary implementors. In any case, we would be raising national productivity, lowering unemployment, reducing poverty, molding better citizens out of our youth, keeping our senior citizens healthier and happier and responding to various development needs of our communities—and we can achieve all this with one cost-effective national program. Harnessing the bayanihan spirit this way is, to my mind, an idea whose time has come, and an extremely effective way to spend our tax pesos.

 

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E-mail: cielito.habito@gmail.com

A different kind of Pacman

Manny Pacquiao is known as a boxer who never lost a match (or until the last time where he was judged to have lost). He now is fighting a different battle where his conviction is tested more than his muscle. Its nice to know he has used his standing in the community to put forward his beliefs despite the odds present.

From The Wall Street Journal

7 August 2012

Manny Pacquiao Hits Out Against Contraception

By Shibani Mahtani

European Pressphoto Association
Filipino boxer and current Congressman Manny Pacquiao attends a plenary session discussing a proposed reproductive health bill.

When Philippine President Benigno Aquino pushed forward a controversial health bill yesterday that seeks to subsidize contraception in the predominantly Catholic country, he set himself up for possible criticism from more than just the country’s powerful Catholic church. Another likely foe: Boxing icon Manny Pacquiao.

The famous athlete, who is also a congressman representing the Philippines district of Sarangani, has come out swinging against the idea of using state funds to make contraception more widely available in the country, which has one of the highest birth rates in Asia.

“God said, ‘Go out and multiply.’ He did not say, just have two or three kids,” he said in an interview earlier this year with the Philippines’ GMA Network, shortly after returning from Las Vegas. Mr. Pacquiao has continued to reference contraception as one of his key political issues, arguing that lawmakers should instead focus on laws that would alleviate poverty, rather than using government funds to subsidize birth control.

Efforts to reach Mr. Pacquiao on Tuesday were unsuccessful, with many government offices closed because of severe flooding.

The reproductive health bill – which would also mandate sex education and widen family planning offerings – passed an important hurdle Monday, when lawmakers decided to end long periods of debate on the issue so that a vote can be held, most likely in the next several weeks. If the bill passes in the Philippines House, backers would also need to get support from the Philippines Senate before the law can be enforced.

Leaders of the country’s Roman Catholic Church have fought hard to block the bill, which they say would promote promiscuity and weaken moral values. Some 10,000 people turned out against the bill in rallies this past weekend. Its backers, including women’s rights groups and some economists, argue the country’s birthrate is unsustainably high with 25 births per every 1,000 people each year – a number which they say must come down so that the Philippines can tackle poverty and infrastructure constraints.

Whether Mr. Pacquiao’s strong words on the issue will help sway more people against the bill is uncertain; indeed, many Filipinos have already made up their minds on the issue, which has been debated off and on for more than a decade. But it does add another popular voice to the debate, potentially helping Catholic leaders reach a wider audience with its message.

Catholic leaders remain adamant that the bill is fundamentally wrong. Archbishop Oscar Cruz, a veteran Catholic leader, said on the online news portal rappler.com that the bill “hates life, wants to do away with life” and questioned the economic value of efforts to rein in the country’s reproductive rates.

The Catholic church has planned more protests against the bill before it goes to a vote. Last weekend’s protests saw thousands carrying placards with phrases like “no to safe sex” and “no to RH bill,” according to local press reports. Proponents maintain that religious leaders have exaggerated the impact of the bill, which they note does not change the country’s ban on abortions, and would only make condoms and contraceptives available to the poor.

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