Emergency power for GMA up to Congress, Palace says

Emergency power for GMA up to Congress, Palace says

Malacañang will let Congress decide whether President Arroyo should be given emergency powers to rein the prices of petroleum products while Luzon remains under a state of calamity from the devastating floods that hit the country recently.

This as two lawmakers Sunday issued a strong appeal to private school owners for leniency in the payment of tuition fees and to suspend the implementation of the “no permit, no exam” policy imposed during the final period of the semester for students affected by the floods.

Deputy Presidential Spokesman for economic affairs Gary Olivar said for now, the President is exhausting all existing powers to address the problems arising from the recent calamities, including concerns on spiraling prices of basic goods and oil products.

Olivar said the President has declared a state of calamity in Luzon to impose price control on basic commodities while allowing local government units to utilize their calamity funds for relief and rehabilitation.

On petroleum products, she has asked the Department of Energy and the Department of Justice to crack down on oil companies engaged in predatory pricing, cartelization, and unreasonable price increases during the calamity. The concerned agencies were also empowered to open the financial books of oil companies to check if their prices reflect current market levels.

The justice department earlier said price control could not be imposed on oil products due to the current deregulated oil regime.

Whether the President’s powers are insufficient to efficiently protect people from the recent catastrophe, however, should be determined by lawmakers, according to Olivar.

“The lawmakers may see the need to strengthen the law so the President or the country’s future leader may act swiftly during calamities. They have the privilege to look into this. We expect them they know the contents of our laws,” he said.

“But if we look at today, President Arroyo is doing all she can. In fact, she lifted the state of calamity in Visayas and Mindanao. The state of calamity however remains in effect in Luzon in order to maintain price control,” he added.

A group of lawyers has called on Congress to enact a law that would grant President Arroyo emergency powers to impose price control on oil products in the aftermath of storms Ondoy and Pepeng.

On Senator Edgardo Angara’s proposal to augment the P1.5 trillion national budget for 2010 for long term rebuilding of calamity areas, Olivar said they respect Angara’s initiative but any additional fund resources should depend on actual requirement.

Olivar said the President has already created a reconstruction commission that would seek foreign aid for the typhoon relief efforts.

The group, led by PLDT Chairman Manuel Pangilinan, Finance Secretary Margarito Teves, and Cebu Archbishop Ricardo Cardinal Vidal, plans to raise an initial P50 billion for the rebuilding operations. Olivar said the President has expressed preference for foreign grants rather than loans to keep the country’s budget deficit in check.

Meanwhile, Rep. Raymond Palatino of Kabataan partylist appealed to schools to be lenient in tuition collection as he pointed out that students and parents affected by the floods may find it difficult to raise cash for the final installment of their tuition fees.

On the other hand, Marikina City Rep. Del de Guzman, chairman of the House Committee on Basic Education, urged private school owners to device easy payment schemes that would give parents more time to produce the money for school payments.

De Guzman, who represents a district that was about 80 percent flooded during the Ondoy calamity, said down payments for tuition during enrolment should also be slashed by about 50 percent to help parents and students recover from the disasters.

He also asked school administrators to consider longer payment terms for students affected by the calamities, saying that government issued certifications attesting to this should be honored by schools.

“While we fully understand the urgency of some schools to start rehabilitating their facilities, we hope they will also consider the lamentable plight of many students affected by the typhoons,” said De Guzman.

Both De Guzman and Palatino noted the need for parents and students to raise the final installment for their tuition fees as the “finals week” period starts Monday.

De Guzman said that aside from “sourcing final period tuition fees’, students also face the difficult task of raising money for the second semester of the school year.

Earlier, Kabataan Party-list filed House Bill 6799 seeking to junk the “no permit no exam” policy and other regulations imposed by colleges and universities prohibiting students from taking their periodic or final examinations due to unpaid tuition and other fees.

“Maraming estudyante ang hindi nakapagpapatuloy ng kanilang pag-aaral dahil hinahayaan ng gobyerno ang mga kolehiyo na mag-impose ng ganitong mapagsamantalang regulasyon,” Palatino said.

“Especially during these times of crisis, our schools should scrap their repressive policies to help students and their families affected by these tragedies,” he said. By GENALYN KABILING, BEN ROSARIO