A MALACAÑANG official hit back at opposition candidates Senator Noynoy Aquino and Senator Manny Villar, saying the two “successfully use state of calamity issue for media mileage.”

Following the declaration of state of calamity in Mindanao, Aquino of Liberal Party and Villar of Nacionalista Party warned the administration about diverting calamity funds for political purposes.

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But deputy president spokesperson Ricardo Saludo,

in an interview over Radyo ng Bayan on Saturday, said the two presidentiables’ expression of fears was part of their campaigning.

“That is normal during elections. They will be saying all negative criticisms so that they will be put on the media. We cannot stop them from doing that as it is part of politicking,” he said.

Dismissing claims of Aquino and Villar, the Palace official said the move of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was not for fund release but to address the worsening power crisis in Mindanao.

“The needs of our brothers in Mindanao are clear and that’s what we are responding to,” he said.

Saludo assured that there will be strict monitoring of the five percent calamity fund of local government units (LGUs).

“Our business and private sector and civil society in Mindanao are watchful of that ensuring that funds will be used to solve their power problem and even to help farmers whose lands where devastated by El Nino,” he said.

He added that the National Government also has Procurement Transparency Group (PTC) headed by an official from the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), which could monitor procurement of every LGU in Mindanao.

On Villar’s fears of selective releases and disbursement of funds to “favored candidates of the administration,” Saludo defended that the five percent funds of the LGUs cannot be held by the government.

“Each LGU has its own budget which they already hold. But aside from that budget, LGUs should have concrete projects where they will be allocating the funds they will request and we are asking those managing the funds to address the needs of affected communities,” he added.

Saludo, meanwhile, lashed back at Aquino and Villar to come up with solutions to power problem than to criticize the government.

“We will accept constructive criticisms from all sides and good suggestions for us to address this problem better and that is what we are expecting from them (critics),” he said.

Nuclear power plant

If Aquino and Villar have no plans for power crunch in Mindanao, Lakas-Kampi-CMD standard bearer Gilberto “Gibo” Teodoro, on the other hand, has aired his suggestions.

Teodoro said he is eyeing the possible establishment of first-ever nuclear power plant in the south as part of a long-term energy sufficiency program to prevent a repeat of the current electricity crisis in the future.

Such a proposal, he added, could be looked into and eventually handled, if given the go signal by the newly created Mindanao Development Authority headed by presidential adviser for Mindanao Jesus Dureza.

“We have to discover and try to explore all options to include, wherever and whenever safe and feasible, the possible establishment of a nuclear power plant, particularly in the South,” Teodoro said.

He noted that even a major oil-exporting country like the United Arab Emirates has resorted to nuclear power to ensure stable electric supply.

He also said a nuclear power plant is a viable alternative when established in a safe place free from volcanic disturbances and weather disturbances.

The administration bet, however, turned down the possibility of reviving the mothballed Bataan Nuclear Power Plant (BNPP) because of its potential danger to the safety of the people and the expected protest from local residents.

The BNPP was supposed to be the first nuclear plant in the country but it was mothballed by the Aquino administration following the 1986 Edsa Revolt.

For short-term solution, Teodoro suggested to increase the number of water impoundments in Mindanao to allow more hydropower plants to operate.

“We need to also really implement the sustainable and renewable energy roadmap for indigenous and renewable sources of energy to avert future power crisis in Mindanao and the rest of the country,” he said.

There are also geothermal sources of energy that country can tap to ensure stable power supply in the years to come, he added.

Power hike

With the declaration of state of calamity in Mindanao, Saludo said that increase in electricity prices is inevitable.

“The electricity produced by hydroelectric power plants is cheaper than that of electricity produced by plants using diesel and crude oil. For hydropower plant it is only P1 per kilowatt hour while for diesel P14 to P15. It is better to increase electricity than having no electricity at all,” he said.

The Palace official furthered that they are expecting for the Department of Energy to immediately carry out all measures cited by President Arroyo to mitigate power deficiency and to allay fears of failure of elections in Mindanao. (Jill Beltran/Sunnex)