Business Mirror : BBM: Next president must reckon with energy, farm issues

25 January 2022

By Business Mirror

RATIONALIZING the energy framework to address supply and pricing of power, and making strategic investments in agriculture and fisheries to ensure food security, top the challenges that the next administration must reckon with, according to presidential aspirant Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr.

Agriculture is one of those sectors “that give the most ‘bang for the buck’ to investments,” and it is time to finally give priority to an area that was “neglected through so many administrations,” especially given how the Covid-19 pandemic showed its crucial role in ensuring food security in a public health crisis that entailed prolonged lockdowns, Marcos said in a free-wheeling interview with journalists from the ALC Media Group on Monday morning.

In the same discussion, Marcos dwelt at length on why energy issues must be addressed with a far-seeing policy direction and strategic investments, noting that, “the price of power; and the reliability and availability of power is always an issue with investors.”  To get back investor interest, “we have to fix the system,” Marcos said.

The division of the energy system into three—generation, transmission and distribution —has spawned some issues, he said, noting how the National Grid Corporation of the Philippines (NGCP), which is in charge of transmission, is being blamed by the Department of Energy (DOE) for some problems beyond its mandate, as what happened in last year’s series of unplanned outages in May and June.

To illustrate how the power supply system suffers from some “crazy scenarios,” he noted that while “geothermal comes from Leyte,” the Eastern Visayan provinces have some of the highest power rates.

The key to ensuring energy security, he explained, is “striking the right balance” between the diverse sources of energy and ramping up investments in renewables as they become more cost-efficient, citing the great strides made in solar power, while acknowledging the limitations of wind, which they had taken pride in because of the Bangui windmills in his home province of Ilocos Norte.

Acknowledging the Philippines’s commitments to helping reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the global climate agreements, Marcos nonetheless pointed to the need to consider the present “realities” in terms of the country’s continuing reliance on oil and coal for its baseload plants. This, he added, is one reason why the investments in renewables by both the state and public sectors should continue to escalate.

Meanwhile, Marcos expressed an openness to revisiting nuclear power, which he noted many first world countries have continued to invest in because it is clean and price-efficient.  He rued what he described as a “political decision” to mothball the Bataan nuclear power plant built in his father’s time, while noting that its “sister plants in Korea have been doing well.” The BNPP was mothballed by the post-Edsa Cory Aquino administration, noting safety concerns besides issues of overprice.

‘Managing debt bomb’

Channelling huge resources to energy, agriculture and other priority sectors like tourism will require a clear strategy in harnessing strong public-private partnerships in order to drive investments there, according to Marcos.

Replying to a question from BusinessMirror on how he would deal with a possible “debt bomb” as warned by some quarters, given how heavy borrowings forced by the pandemic response caused the country’s debt to soar the last two years, Marcos said the debt as percentage of GDP is running at the level of 59-60 percent, which, compared to other countries that borrowed heavily, is still manageable.

Nonetheless, he stressed, the country’s working its way out of debt would require a very “clear vision and strategic action. The country “must have a targeted [focus] in terms of public investments.  I don’t think that if we allow [the usual] free market” to run its course, it can quickly boost economic growth and restore fiscal health, added the Partido Federal standard bearer. “We really have to target certain sectors of the economy.”

According to the end-December report of the Bureau of Treasury, the national government’s outstanding debt for January to November 2021 hit P11.93 trillion, beyond the government’s expected level of P11.73 trillion.

FOI, SALN issues

Replying to a query by CNN Philippines, the former senator said that if elected president, he would likely support a tack to limit releases of the Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Networth (SALN) of government officials, saying the current Ombudsman’s concern over SALNs being weaponized to “harass” public servants is a valid concern. “If a SALN needs to be disclosed as part of an investigation,” releasing it should be mandatory, he said, but added that he had known of many cases where public officers were raked over the coals by their political rivals on account of minute, seemingly harmless entries in their SALNs.

Reminded that as senator for six years, he had released, along with other members of the chamber, their SALNs every year wthout incident, Marcos noted he had been diligent in filling up his SALNs, especially in the valuation of declared properties. However, he said, there are some public officers who lose so much time responding to alleged harassment cases over their SALN.

Marcos, one of only three senators (the others being Joker Arroyo and Miriam Defensor Santiago) who voted to acquit then Chief Justice Renato Corona in his impeachment trial in 2012, said the Corona case “influenced a lot” his views on how SALN can be weaponized because, “I saw every single bit of evidence,” and in his view, Corona did nothing illegal in his SALN filing. “They manipulated the analysis of his SALN,” he added.