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Osmeña: Petilla CA delay is message to Palace

MANILA, Philippines – “The more I postpone the hearing, the more I tell the government, ‘You’re not getting your acts together.’”

Senator Sergio “Serge” Osmeña III stood firm on his decision not to schedule Energy Secretary Jericho Petilla for a confirmation hearing, saying it is his way of telling the Aquino administration to fix the country’s power problems.

Osmeña, chairperson of the Commission on Appointments’ (CA) energy committee, said he has no plans of calling Petilla for a hearing anytime soon even with session adjourning next week. He said it is even possible that the Aquino administration will end with Petilla unconfirmed.

“That’s my discretion. I feel that he has not been an effective energy secretary. You see that many people are complaining [about power],” Osmeña said in a press briefing on Thursday, June 5.

“I’m totally unhappy with the performance of the energy department," said the senator who also heads the Senate energy committee. 

In contrast, Social Welfare Secretary Dinky Soliman, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima and Environment Secretary Ramon Paje faced the CA this week but have yet to be confirmed after 4 years in office. Soliman and De Lima have a chance of securing confirmation next week, with most CA members vowing to vote for them.

After calling on President Benigno Aquino III to fire Petilla, Osmeña said the administration still did not address the problems in the energy sector, which came to a head in November with the country’s highest power rate hike in history

“It’s more of the same. You see now the big generating companies have spoken and asked what is happening. They are the ones producing power and they are asking the President, ‘Give us your plans for the energy sector.’ In other words, they have no plans. That is the situation,” Osmeña said.

The man who infamously called Aquino and Petilla “awful managers” reiterated that the Department of Energy (DOE) secretary is not focused on the power industry. Osmeña said the former Leyte governor prioritizes politics over the DOE.

“They call him in DOE ‘Mr One-third Secretary.’ One-third of his concern even before Typhoon Yolanda is Leyte. The other one-third is to pay attention to his business, BPO business, but he says his wife is running it. You need a professional with full attention to the energy industry. You and I don’t realize how important it is until we lose our lights,” he said.

Osmeña said he is just waiting for a CA member to ask him to schedule a hearing for Petilla and he will consider it. “But the way I look at it, it’s useless because the questions I will ask him will embarrass him. He will be under severe pressure because I will certainly ask the toughest questions.”

Osmeña again took the administration to task for supposedly failing to develop a long-term plan to secure the country’s power supply. He said the simultaneous shutdowns of power plants that caused last year’s rate hike were a sign of poor planning.

Besides Osmeña, militant groups have called on Petilla to resign for supposedly failing to address the power crisis, the delays in restoring power to Yolanda-hit areas, and the energy problem in Mindanao. 

Instead of rejecting Petilla in the CA, Osmeña admitted that it was a “tactical move” for him not to schedule the secretary’s confirmation.

“It’s hard to get a reject vote because Malacañang controls the vote in the CA,” Osmeña said.

Paje a ‘weak secretary’

Osmeña also indicated that Paje’s confirmation hearings will not be over soon because he still has a lot of questions for the environment secretary. On Tuesday, the senator asked Paje about the National Greening Program, the administration’s biggest environment program.

“I’m still not happy with his answers. They’re very general. I want to be more specific. There are a lot of shenanigans in the sectors covered by the department: black sand mining, illegal mining,” Osmeña said.

Osmeña said Paje was unable to respond to his question on how to deal with corrupt judges who issue restraining orders in favor of mining companies. “He said there is nothing he can do. That shows a weak secretary to me.”

“Am I happy? No, I’m not happy but then [again] I’m not happy with most appointees of PNoy anyway,” he quipped.

Osmeña cannot say whether or not one hearing is enough to finish his questions for Paje. 

“It all depends how responsive he is. I have to ask follow-up questions. I don’t measure it [by time]. That we’ve already had 4 hearings, 5 hearings. It’s not the right way. These are not silly questions. I pride myself in doing my homework.”

The senator said that even if Petilla and Paje remain unconfirmed, it does not matter in the long run. “The president can keep reappointing [them]. That’s the loophole there. There’s no limit.”

Petilla better senator than DOE chief

While he has harsh criticism of Petilla’s performance in the DOE, Osmeña said he will endorse the secretary as senator, along with De Lima and Camarines Sur Representative Leni Robredo. 

“I think Petilla, there are square pegs in round holes. It might be a golden peg but in the wrong position. It has to be commensurate with his abilities, training, mental temperament …. I would endorse Petilla, help him join the Senate. He’s better being in the Senate than DOE secretary.”

A political strategist who helped the President’s campaign, Osmeña said he already has a Senate post in mind for De Lima: head of the Senate blue ribbon committee.

“I was kidding. She’s good at investigation. That’s what the blue ribbon committee does,” he said. –