Will wonders never cease?
According to industry sources, on June 23, 2022, the South Premier Power Corporation (SPPC), a unit of San Miguel Corporation (SMC), signed a gas supply and purchase agreement worth $1.2 billion with the Philippine National Oil Co. (PNOC).
The deal involved the sale of 70 petajoules of natural gas from the Malampaya field that’s described as “banked” gas because it would be set aside for the specific purpose of running power plants.
One petajoule is equivalent to more than 30 million cubic meters of natural gas. This means 70 petajoules equals more than 2 billion cubic meters of gas.
The PNOC, the SMC said in a statement, is “under the direct supervision of the DOE, the PNOC Board and the Office of the Government Corporate Counsel.”
Note that the deal was signed on June 23, 2022, or one week before the end of the term of Rodrigo Duterte as president and the start of the new administration of Ferdinand ‘Bongbong’ Marcos Jr.
Duterte’s appointees are by law coterminous with the president.
Would that make it a ‘midnight deal’ or not?
But there are other questions that have been raised by keen observers.
How was the amount $1.2 billion arrived at? How was the computation done?
Industry experts estimate that the huge volume of natural gas could have fetched up to $4 billion in the open market if there was competitive bidding.
It appears, however, that no bidding was done at all, with the deal consummated only through negotiations.
That only raises more questions. Who were involved in the talks? Were there any potential buyers other than SMC?
Based on estimates done by industry experts, the government lost as much as $2.8 billion in the transaction which is easily more than P100 billion in foregone revenues that could have been used for other purposes.
Let us not forget that the government is facing a record 13 trillion (and counting) pesos in debt and is trying to raise funds for social amelioration, or ayuda, to sectors which are still struggling to make ends meet after being battered by the COVID-19 pandemic.
These sectors include those working in public transport and those engaged in the delivery of parcels for online sellers, who are all now reeling under the weight of atrociously high fuel prices.
The questions don’t stop there.
Why didn’t officials and SMC representatives allow the transition from one administration to the next be completed first before concluding the $1.2 billion sale of banked Malampaya gas?
Was there undue haste in consummating the deal? If so, why?
What was the formula used in computing the cost of the banked gas, considering that 70 petajoules are enough to keep several power plants running for more than a year?
Why was there no competitive bidding? Were there any other interested buyers who could have offered a higher price?
And finally, was the transaction designed to provide so-called “golden parachutes” to those involved in the deal?
In short, this is a public interest issue that should be looked at by the concerned agencies, including the House of Representatives and/or the Senate.
Hmmm. And we continue to be amazed no end why wonders never cease in this country of ours.
Decriminalization of libel
We support Sen. Risa Hontiveros’ move to file a bill seeking the decriminalization of libel. Senate Bill 1593 seeks to repeal portions of the Revised Penal Code on libel and the provision on cyberlibel in the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012.
She has compelling reasons to do so:
“Our libel laws have been weaponized to stifle very basic fundamental rights. These laws have been used to constantly attack many of our freedoms, but particularly the freedom of the press. We need to decriminalize libel if we are to truly defend press freedom.”
The bill wants to remove the criminal aspect of libel, but will allow people to sue for damages.
The opposition senator said cyberlibel has been weaponized to silence journalists, whom she said were only doing their jobs: “If we don’t correct this, libel will continue to be used to kill our freedom.”
In 2012, the United Nations Committee on Human Rights declared that the continuing criminalization of libel in the Philippines violated the country’s obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Journalists in the country have long called to decriminalize libel, along with the more serious cyberlibel offense stipulated in the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012.
The cyberlibel provision is more pernicious as the allegedly offensive published material could be spread in various social media platforms here and abroad by the malevolent and the wicked and keep well-intentioned investigative journalists behind bars for hundreds of years and forced to pay millions in exemplary and moral damages if found guilty by the courts.