Friday, September 19, 2014

Tap unspent P180-B Malampaya, energy royalties for emergency power needs

MANILA-Unspent royalty payments from Malampaya and other energy projects are expected to reach P180 billion by the end of year making it an abundant source of funds for projects government may undertake once Congress grants President Aquino emergency powers to tackle the looming energy crunch.

“If you read the 2015 budget documents, it says there that there is a balance of P148.8 billion as of December 2013 in government shares from Malampaya and other energy development projects,” Senate President Pro-Tempore Ralph Recto said.

“If you add the remittances for 2014, which is projected at P31.6 billion, and deduct about P757 million in withdrawals this year, then the end-year balance is about P179.7 billion,” the senator said.

“Those are not my figures. They’re the ones stated in the Budget of Expenditures and Sources of Financing,” Recto said, referring to a document more known in lawmaking circles by its acronym “BESF” which accompanies the proposed national budget.

With this hoard, Recto said ”theoretically, the government can fully subsidize the estimated P6 billion cost of contracting 600 megawatts of electricity next year in order to bridge supply gaps which are expected to worsen during the summer months when electricity use spikes up.”

“Kung tutuusin pwede ngang sagutin na ng gobyerno ‘yan. Pwede ngang libre, from the point of view of financial capacity,” Recto said.

“P6 billion is what we spend in 30 days for the CCT (Conditional Cash Transfer). That’s equivalent to the government’s payroll and pension expenses in three days. So ‘yung anim na bilyon, 72-hours lang ‘yan na pangsweldo at pang-pension ng ating gobyerno ngayon,” Recto said.   

The senator was referring to the P761 billion earmarked for personal cost or PS of the bureaucracy for 2015.  CCT’s proposed budget on the other hand is P64.7 billion but other financial aid projects of the DSWD has pushed the latter’s budget to P109 billion for next year.

After Energy officials warned of a 400-megawatt to 1,000-megawatt shortfall in the Luzon power supply in the first half of 2015, Malacanang is scrambling to secure emergency powers from Congress so it can contract private power providers to supply 600 megawatts.

The contracted power will be divided equally for reserves which can be kicked in during peak demands and to bolster baseload capacity.

Under current laws, government is barred from building power plants but the President may ask Congress for authority to contract additional generating capacity if there is an imminent electricity supply shortage.

Now that the President has asked for emergency powers, Recto said the debate will not center on the wordings of the joint resolution Congress may issue, but “on the costing, the pesos required.”

So that the authority “will be backed by legal tender,” Recto proposed that the amount needed be included in the Special Provision of the Department of Energy (DOE) budget in the General Appropriations Bill.

He explained that aside from the appropriations for DOE, which is P3.3 billion for 2015, the agency is given authority to use proceeds from energy development projects, like the Malampaya, in financing energy-related projects.

For 2015, that add-on is about P974 million, Recto said. “What we can perhaps do is raise this ceiling to accommodate the P6 billion, if that is what’s needed.”

“Mas maganda ang ganito kasi transparent, nasa budget, merong limit sa gagastusin,” he said.

Presidential Decree 910 pools “all government shares representing royalties, rentals, production share on service contracts and similar payments on the exploration, development and exploitation of energy resources” in an off-budget special fund.

For this year, Malampaya will contribute P28.3 billion; coal production, P1.6 billion; geothermal projects, P572 million; oil, P1.1 billion; for a total of P31.6 billion. 

Senate OKs bill granting PhilHealth insurance to all seniors

MANILA-The Senate on Wednesday has passed on second reading the measure providing mandatory PhilHealth coverage to all senior citizens regardless of their social or economic status.

Senate Bill 712, authored by Senate President Pro-Tempore Ralph Recto, would automatically enroll all senior citizens of the country in the national health insurance program of Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth).

Currently, only indigent senior citizens are entitled to PhilHealth coverage under Republic Act (RA) 7432 as amended by RA 9994, otherwise known as the Expanded Senior Citizens Act of 2010.

Recto said the target beneficiaries of the proposed measure are the senior citizens who are neither lifetime members of PhilHealth and dependents nor indigents.

“They’re in the grey area of not being too poor to be officially classified indigents but still cannot afford to enroll themselves in PhilHealth. The bill seeks to close this crack where many seniors fall,” he said.

Recto said health insurance can never be called universal if it does not cover all seniors.

“Enrolling them must be automatic, not optional. The ideal is that the minute they blow out the candles on their 60th birthday cake to the moment they breathe their last – they should be PhilHealth members,” he added.

There are approximately 6.1 million senior citizens -- 60years old and above -- in the country today but only 3.9 million are PhilHealth members as of June 05, 2014.

Recto said PhilHealth needs to cover 2.2 million more senior citizens, which would entail premium payments worth P5.2 billion a year, which could be sourced from the National Health Insurance Fund of PhilHealth.

PhilHealth, as of December 2013, has 31.27 million registered members and 45.63 million dependents totaling to 76.90 million Filipinos provided with Philhealth coverage.

In 2013, PhilHealth reported an income from premium contributions amounting to P62 billion, on top of the subsidy of P12.612 billion it received from the national government.

Correspondingly, for 2013, PhilHealth paid P55.559 billion in benefits payment.

The third reading approval of the measure is widely expected anytime soon or before Congress takes a break starting next week.

Recto thanked Sen. TG Guingona, Senate health committee chair, for shepherding the bill from public hearings to the plenary for debate.

"Sen. Pia Cayetano also put in a wide range of valuable inputs and amendments which further improved the measure," Recto added.

The senator said “supportive PhilHealth officers” led by its Chief Executive Officer, Atty. Alexander Padilla, were also on hand to answer queries and provide technical assistance. 

Legarda Lauds Ombudsman’s Solid Waste Act Compliance Program

MANILA-Senator Loren Legarda lauded the Office of the Ombudsman for its efforts to ensure the implementation of the country’s environmental laws, particularly the 13-year old Republic Act No. 9003 or Ecological Solid Waste Management (ESWM) Act of 2001.

Legarda, principal author and sponsor of RA 9003 and Chair of the Senate Committee on Environment and Natural Resources, said that the Ombudsman’s “Solid Waste Management Law Voluntary Compliance Assessment and Promotion Program” will be a big boost in the campaign to compel all local government units (LGUs) to implement the law.

The program, which was launched in 2013 together with the National Solid Waste Management Commission, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Zero Waste Philippines, Mother Earth Foundation and Bangon Kalikasan, aims to recognize LGUs that have complied with the ESWM Law and urge voluntary compliance of other LGUs.  

“This program of the Office of the Ombudsman is a welcome initiative and we hope this could finally lead to 100% compliance with the ESWM law. We have a very good solid waste management law, but its benefits are yet to be felt because up to now very few LGUs have been implementing it. In fact, the 2012 statistics from the National Economic Development Authority (NEDA) showed that ten years after the law was enacted, only 414 of the 1,610 LGUs nationwide have complied with the national plan. This translates to only 25.7% compliance rate,” she said.

According to Environmental Ombudsman Gerard Mosquera, letters were sent to LGUs asking them to rate themselves regarding their compliance with key provisions of the ESWM Law, particularly on mandatory segregation of wastes, materials recovery facilities, no segregation/no collection rule, closure and rehabilitation of open/controlled disposal facility, use of sanitary landfill or alternative technology, and submission of 10-year solid waste management plan.

The self-assessed compliance reports will be validated and the ESWM Excellence Awards will be conferred on LGUs with best compliance programs.

“With the Ombudsman, through its Office of the Environmental Ombudsman, leading this program, I am confident that more LGUs will be encouraged, if not compelled, to take up their responsibility of implementing the solid waste management law and other environmental laws to ensure safe, clean and disaster-resilient communities,” Legarda said.

“This law is very important especially in our efforts towards disaster risk reduction, to prevent flooding and other disasters such as the tragic trash slides of the past,” Legarda concluded.


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