Petilla: I accepted job because Aquino 'wants changes'

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) - Former Leyte Gov Jericho Petilla accepted the challenge to become the new energy secretary because President Benigno Aquino II "wants changes" to improve the way things are run in the country.

"He really wants changes in the way we do things [and] bring us back to where we were before. In other words, you know, improve the country, make us competitive," Petilla told reporters after his oath-taking ceremony on Sunday, November 4.

The new energy chief declined to detail how he will lead the department after taking over from Rene Almendras and insisted he will first get a grip on the situation of the power industry before he makes any decision.

Regarding power capacity, Petilla admitted "we are treading on thin lines" in Luzon and Visayas in terms of supply vs demand, on top of the chronic shortage in Mindanao.

He also asked for more time to go over information when asked about the fact that the Philippines has one of the highest power rates in Asia.

"I have my own ideas but these are all personal information that I have. I’d rather look at the real statistics, the real reasons…It's not as simple as we think. It’s really complex and before I do anything, before I decide on anything, before I even start looking at the specific actions, I really have to look at the situation, the overall situation."

Petilla also stopped short of pushing directly for more geothermal energy plants even if the largest plant in Asia is located precisely in Leyte, his own province.

"We will definitely maximize where we can save; where we can get cheaper power. Geothermal is not necessarily the cheapest…There may be other cheaper power sources but that is something that we will look into as well."

Electric cooperatives

Petilla also touched on some electric cooperatives that are delinquent in paying power supply from generators. 

"We have ECs (electric cooperatives) whose contracts are running out. For power generators to put up power plants, they want more assurance from cooperatives that they are going to pay. Is there enough demand? [According to] cooperatives, 'we will not have power without you (power generators), but is it going to be at the rate that we can afford? It's a combination of a lot of things. It is not a simple case," Petilla said.

Prior to taking his oath as energy chief, Petilla said his only exposure to the power sector is in dealing with cooperatives and power plant operators to secure his constituents' electricity supply.

"In the end we have to deal with the cooperatives, power plants. In the end, it [the people in the provinces don't have] power, they actually don't go and complain to] the energy secretary," Petilla said. -