Arroyo vows to reduce high electricity rates for end users


MANILA, AFP

Philippines leader Gloria Arroyo vowed Friday to “squeeze blood from stone” to cut high electricity rates that have caused her political stock to dwindle less than two years before the next presidential election.

“It’s like squeezing blood from stone,” Arroyo said in a series of public appearances in which she appealed to the public for support. “But we’ve got to try.”

At a news conference, she laid out a 10-point program that she said would help reduce the cost of electricity for end-users.

She said government regulators have already ordered state-run National Power Corp. (Napocor) to cut rates by six centavos per kilowatt-hour, even though the utility has sought permission to raise tariffs by 17 centavos (four US cents).

She also ordered the state utility to put the new rates in effect within a week “so that we can get more relief.”

Arroyo’s public approval rating dove nearly six percentage points from the previous quarter to 42.6 percent this month, the Manila-based polling company Social Weather Stations said last week.

The polling agency blamed the fall on “public dismay over increased electricity rates”.

Last month, popular pressure forced Arroyo to suspend collection of a controversial “purchased power adjustment” fee from electricity customers.

However Napocor needs the money to pay for supply contracts with private power companies, which in the early ‘90s helped the government monopoly remedy an acute energy crisis.

Government officials have said Manila will have to go into debt to cover the financing.

Arroyo, widely expected to seek a full six-year term in the 2004 vote, said she would reduce her public speaking engagements over the coming weeks to enable her to study the other aspects of the 10-point power-cost reduction plan, including the implementation of a power sector reform law.