Headline

Siltation

Research group IBON said that despite strong opposition from mining companies, the Duterte government should stand firm on the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) head’s order on mines closure. The group also belied mining companies’ claims that large scale mining has brought development to the country.

President Duterte has expressed support for DENR secretary Gina Lopez’ order to close down 23 mining firms and suspend five more due to grave violations against the environment. Ordered closed were Benguet Corp. Nickel Mines Inc., Ore Asia Mining and Development Corporation and Benguet Corporation and four other mining companies in Luzon, 10 in Vizayas and seven in Mindanao.

​Lopez has also ordered the cancellation of 75 mining contracts. ​

The Chamber of Mines of the Philipines (COMP), meanwhile, composed of the country’s mining firms, has questioned the closure and warned of the massive jobs and revenue losses that it will entail. Finance secretary and Mining Industry Coordinating Council (MICC) co-chairperson Carlos Dominguez also cautioned that the DENR orders would cost affected local governments millions in foregone revenues.

IBON however refuted that large-scale mining has been beneficial to the economy. It said that for instance, while mineral exports hit a high US$3.4 billion in 2013,  mining contributed a measly 0.7% to gross domestic product (GDP) in the same year. The sector’s contribution grew to this level only from 0.5% after more than a decade of operations. The annual average share of mining revenues to total government revenues in 2009-2012 was only 1.18 percent, the group added. The contribution of the mining and quarrying sector to employment was also negligible at 0.7% of total employment.

IBON also noted the string of mining disasters since the enactment of the Philippine Mining Act in 1995. Aside from human deaths, large-scale mining has caused damaged dams, soil and water pollution due to excessive tailings, siltation, contamination and damage to agricultural lands, fish kill and other damages to marine life, buried or damaged houses in tailings and flash floods, isolated villages, dust fallout and air pollution, massive evacuation and various illnesses. Moreover, said the group, more than 90% of Philippine mineral production is exported for use by other countries’ steel industries while the country has none. This, despite the Philippines being one of the world’s top producers of gold, copper and nickel.

Government should uphold the mining ban, IBON said, and be wary of opposition coming from certain members of the cabinet involved in the mining sector, which could derail efforts to advance the people’s interests.

The closure and suspension orders is a positive step for the protection of the Philippine environment and towards ensuring that the country’s natural resources benefit the Filipino people, the group added. Various groups are pushing for the resumption of the peace talks as these principles are represented in the negotiations’ social and economic reforms agenda. ​###

From Ebizload

The Manila Electric Co. (Meralco) recently said that it aims to expand its prepaid customers by 100,000 from the current 40,000 this year. Kuryente Load (KLoad), the utility giant’s prepaid electricity service, is presently available in Mandaluyong, Manila, Pasig, and parts of Rizal. Meralco now plans to offer KLoad to customers in Caloocan, Makati, Marikina, Pasay, Pateros, San Juan, and Taguig.

Pilot tested in 2013 and commercially rolled out in 2015, KLoad allows customers to save up to 20% in consumption, or so Meralco avers. But looking past this dodgy claim, KLoad is nothing more than the worst form of the neoliberal tenet “users pay”.

The scheme deepens the exclusion of the poor from access to electricity as a basic service and their right to decent living. As the Energy Department once said, prepaid electricity helps “consumers not unnecessarily spend for what they cannot afford”.

How it works

A user must have Meralco’s “intelligent” meter installed first and register a mobile number for the account. Through SMS (‘text’) using the registered mobile number, the user can load KLoad cards worth as low as Php100 and as high as Php1,000.

The user will receive a text message confirming that the amount has been loaded successfully to his or her account. KLoad also lets users receive text notifications on the account’s remaining balance, low load reminder, and rate adjustments. Like prepaid cards for mobile, KLoad cards can be bought even at retail stores.

For Filipinos who have long been accustomed to prepaid mobile service, KLoad is pretty easy to grasp. In fact, it is this familiarity with and preference for prepaid mobile that Meralco banks on for its KLoad. Saddled with tight budget, most Filipinos use prepaid mobile to control spending.

Lack of a steady income, in fact, forces many to buy in tingi not just mobile credits but most of their daily needs – from shampoo to 3-in-1 coffee. The same concept supposedly applies to prepaid electricity.

The problem is it’s not quite the case.

Rising power rates

Under the KLoad system, retail rates will be the same as the effective postpaid rate at the particular month the load was consumed. Unconsumed credits in a given month will be charged with prevailing rates in the following month.

Unlike in prepaid mobile and other consumer goods where charges are more or less predictable, electricity rates vary monthly (often upwards). The reason is deregulation under the Electric Power Industry Reform Act of 2001 (Epira), which allows automatic adjustments in the generation charge and other periodic adjustments.

The fluctuating rates make it difficult for a household to effectively monitor and regulate their consumption, and accordingly plan their use of electricity based on prepaid credits.

But far more crucially, the ever-increasing power rates will offset efforts by a household to cut their electricity bill even when they shift to KLoad. No matter how much kilowatt-hour that a household tries to reduce in their consumption, the end result is still an exorbitant electricity bill.

Meralco’s own commissioned survey in 2016 shows that its rates are the third highest in Asia. An average Meralco customer is also paying 4.5% of their disposable income for electricity, higher than the global average of 3.9 percent.

Aside from deregulating rates, Epira also privatized the country’s power plants. In Luzon where Meralco operates, just three groups (i.e., San Miguel, Lopez, and Aboitiz) control 70% of power generation. Such tremendous control makes alleged collusion and price rigging easier like during power plant shutdowns that lead to rate spikes.

In March this year, for instance, Meralco said that its rates are set to rise by as much as Php1.44 per kWh purportedly due to Malampaya maintenance shutdown from 28 January to 16 February. Other power plants will also be on maintenance shutdown on 13-17 February, placing more pressure on power supply and rates.

Anti-consumer, anti-poor

Instead of addressing these policy issues, the onus of coping with rising electricity costs is further passed on to hapless consumers under the prepaid system. With KLoad, no prepaid credits, no electricity. Disconnection is automatic, done remotely by Meralco. It’s that straightforward and heartless.

Through remote and automatic disconnection when credits run out, KLoad violates the rights of Meralco customers as outlined in the Magna Carta for Residential Electricity Consumers. These rights include the right to due process and notice prior to disconnection and suspension of disconnection.

Prepaid customers are supposed to be notified via text three days before the remaining load is estimated to run out. The warning shall be based on the average consumption of the household. But what if the household used more electricity than their average consumption and depleted the load in two days instead of three?

KLoad primarily targets poor communities where collection of monthly bill is problematic and illegal connection is prevalent. A prepaid system for these households ensures that bills are paid to and collected by Meralco. As explained by the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC), prepaid electricity reduces pilferage and improves collection efficiency and cash flow for distribution utilities.

Meralco has an existing partnership with the National Housing Authority (NHA) to provide KLoad service to urban poor families resettled from waterways and danger areas in Metro Manila. Recently, in a Tondo slum, Meralco installed KLoad for former Smokey Mountain residents.

Notably, prepaid system is among the supposed best approaches to slum electrification that the US Agency for International Development (USAID) endorsed in its 2004 study that also included Meralco as one of the cases.

Affront to decent living

KLoad is part of the long-term plan of Meralco to install the so-called Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) – an integrated system of intelligent meters – in its franchise area. The AMI will allow Meralco to, among others, remotely switch on and off the supply of electricity not only to prepaid customers but also those with regular connection.

Access to electricity is needed to achieve the minimum standard of decent living. Thus, it should not be contingent upon the ability of people to pay and must be a basic right guaranteed by the state. KLoad and Meralco’s remote and automatic disconnection system is a blatant affront to this right.

KLoad will set a worrisome precedent if not questioned and opposed. It is prepaid electricity today. Prepaid water soon? ###

 

MinWageCASER

Pres. Rodrigo Duterte recalled the government’s peace negotiators from negotiations with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) until being given “compelling reason” to resume talks. Research group IBON, however, points out that the most compelling reason for having peace talks are the economic and political reforms on the agenda that can address the roots of armed conflict. Ending the peace talks with the NDFP also ends talks on important social and economic reforms which makes the prospects for their implementation and achieving benefits for the people dimmer.

IBON noted that ceasefires are at most only momentary respites from fighting. The government and the NDFP reaching agreements on genuine reforms, on the other hand, are among the clearest steps towards peace based on social justice. The government and NDFP each prepared their proposed draft for a comprehensive agreement on social and economic reforms (CASER) and exchanged these in mid-January 2017. IBON reviewed these and compared their respective proposals for key reforms.

IrrigationCASER

Pres. Rodrigo Duterte recalled the government’s peace negotiators from negotiations with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) until being given “compelling reason” to resume talks. Research group IBON, however, points out that the most compelling reason for having peace talks are the economic and political reforms on the agenda that can address the roots of armed conflict. Ending the peace talks with the NDFP also ends talks on important social and economic reforms which makes the prospects for their implementation and achieving benefits for the people dimmer.

IBON noted that ceasefires are at most only momentary respites from fighting. The government and the NDFP reaching agreements on genuine reforms, on the other hand, are among the clearest steps towards peace that is based on social justice. The government and NDFP each prepared their proposed draft for a comprehensive agreement on social and economic reforms (CASER) and exchanged these in mid-January 2017. IBON reviewed these and compared their respective proposals for key reforms.

LowerTaxesCASER

Pres. Rodrigo Duterte recalled the government’s peace negotiators from negotiations with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) until being given “compelling reason” to resume talks. Research group IBON, however, points out that the most compelling reason for having peace talks are the economic and political reforms on the agenda that can address the roots of armed conflict. Ending the peace talks with the NDFP also ends talks on important social and economic reforms which makes the prospects for their implementation and achieving benefits for the people dimmer.

IBON noted that ceasefires are at most only momentary respites from fighting. The government and the NDFP reaching agreements on genuine reforms, on the other hand, are among the clearest steps towards peace based on social justice. The government and NDFP each prepared their proposed draft for a comprehensive agreement on social and economic reforms (CASER) and exchanged these in mid-January 2017. IBON reviewed these and compared their respective proposals for key reforms.

FreeInternetCASER

Pres. Rodrigo Duterte recalled the government’s peace negotiators from negotiations with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) until being given “compelling reason” to resume talks. Research group IBON, however, points out that the most compelling reason for having peace talks are the economic and political reforms on the agenda that can address the roots of armed conflict. Ending the peace talks with the NDFP also ends talks on important social and economic reforms which makes the prospects for their implementation and achieving benefits for the people dimmer.

IBON noted that ceasefires are at most only momentary respites from fighting. The government and the NDFP reaching agreements on genuine reforms, on the other hand, are among the clearest steps towards peace based on social justice. The government and NDFP each prepared their proposed draft for a comprehensive agreement on social and economic reforms (CASER) and exchanged these in mid-January 2017. IBON reviewed these and compared their respective proposals for key reforms.

FreeDayCareCASER

Pres. Rodrigo Duterte recalled the government’s peace negotiators from negotiations with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) until being given “compelling reason” to resume talks. Research group IBON, however, points out that the most compelling reason for having peace talks are the economic and political reforms on the agenda that can address the roots of armed conflict. Ending the peace talks with the NDFP also ends talks on important social and economic reforms which makes the prospects for their implementation and achieving benefits for the people dimmer.

IBON noted that ceasefires are at most only momentary respites from fighting. The government and the NDFP reaching agreements on genuine reforms, on the other hand, are among the clearest steps towards peace based on social justice. The government and NDFP each prepared their proposed draft for a comprehensive agreement on social and economic reforms (CASER) and exchanged these in mid-January 2017. IBON reviewed these and compared their respective proposals for key reforms.

FreeEducCASER

Pres. Rodrigo Duterte recalled the government’s peace negotiators from negotiations with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) until being given “compelling reason” to resume talks. Research group IBON, however, points out that the most compelling reason for having peace talks are the economic and political reforms on the agenda that can address the roots of armed conflict. Ending the peace talks with the NDFP also ends talks on important social and economic reforms which makes the prospects for their implementation and achieving benefits for the people dimmer.

IBON noted that ceasefires are at most only momentary respites from fighting. The government and the NDFP reaching agreements on genuine reforms, on the other hand, are among the clearest steps towards peace based on social justice. The government and NDFP each prepared their proposed draft for a comprehensive agreement on social and economic reforms (CASER) and exchanged these in mid-January 2017. IBON reviewed these and compared their respective proposals for key reforms.

FreeLandCASER

Pres. Rodrigo Duterte recalled the government’s peace negotiators from negotiations with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) until being given “compelling reason” to resume talks. Research group IBON, however, points out that the most compelling reason for having peace talks are the economic and political reforms on the agenda that can address the roots of armed conflict. Ending the peace talks with the NDFP also ends talks on important social and economic reforms which makes the prospects for their implementation and achieving benefits for the people dimmer.

IBON noted that ceasefires are at most only momentary respites from fighting. The government and the NDFP reaching agreements on genuine reforms, on the other hand, are among the clearest steps towards peace based on social juasti=9. The government and NDFP each prepared their proposed draft for a comprehensive agreement on social and economic reforms (CASER) and exchanged these in mid-January 2017. IBON reviewed these and compared their respective proposals for key reforms.

From Leadr.com

Agreement in principle on free land distribution shows Parties can unite on people-centered measures beyond current government policy

The second round of peace talks between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) concluded Thursday. One of the historic event’s main highlights was the exchange of draft proposals between the Reciprocal Working Committees on Socioeconomic Reforms (RWC-SER). These proposals will be deliberated in order to come up with a Comprehensive Agreement on Social and Economic Reforms (CASER).

That the two Parties in the peace negotiations have produced their draft proposals for social and economic reforms is a first important step in forging a genuinely people-centered development program, research group IBON said. Amid the prevalence of profit-oriented policies, this can challenge not only the negotiating bodies but the entire Filipino people to push for reforms that would benefit the majority of the population that has for many decades been subjected to chronic poverty and a worsening jobs crisis in a backward and underdeveloped economy.

Based on the Joint Statement of the negotiating panels released upon the formal closing of the talks, the groups also initially reached a common understanding on the general features of agrarian problems in the Philippines and agreed in principle to the free distribution of land as part of the agreement’s governing framework.

IBON welcomed this steady progress of the talks on social and economic reforms. The agreement in principle on free land distribution also indicates that the GRP and NDFP can agree on policy measures beneficial to the people even beyond current government policy, said the group.

Looking at the publicly available drafts of both Parties, IBON observed that the NDFP has prepared an agreement well below its maximum socialist perspective, which indicates their willingness to make adjustments in order to reach common ground with the GRP. The GRP draft, however, still hews closely to the neoliberal, free market, and elite-biased framework that caused so many of the economy’s problems today, the group noted.

Government needs to be more open and willing to break free from its old thinking for an eventual agreement that will bring the economy forward and improve the welfare of the majority of Filipinos rather than a few, IBON said. With this, the next few months could yet be the start of a real policy shift and change for the better in the country. It will also be an opportune time for the people to further heighten the clamor on their demands and employ more rigorous efforts for concrete change, said the group.

(The CASER is the approved second substantive agenda of the peace negotiations following the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL) which was signed in 1998. Next on the negotiations agenda are political and constitutional reforms, ending hostilities and disposition of forces.)

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