Opposition to privatization of Mindanao’s hydropower complexes growing

MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews/15 August) – Opposition to the privatization of Mindanao’s Agus and Pulangi hydropower complexes as provided for in the Electric Power Industry Reform Act of 2001 (EPIRA) is gaining ground, Mindanao Development Authority (MinDA) chair Sec. Jesus Dureza told MindaNews Saturday.

“The Mindanao Development Authority has received a growing number of position papers against the privatization,” Dureza said.

MinDA started receiving an influx of position papers when the power crisis hit Mindanao due to the El Nino phenomenon that resulted in power rationing, he added.

“The opposition heightened during this time when people were becoming more conscious about the power situation in Mindanao,” the secretary said in an interview after he spoke at the opening of the First Northern Mindanao Regional Media Conference, which is organized by the Mindanao Media Forum.

EPIRA (Republic Act 9136) provides for the sale of the Agus/Pulangui hydropower complexes by next year.

Chapter V of the EPIRA, Sec 47 (f) states: “The Agus and the Pulangui complexes in Mindanao shall be excluded from among the generation companies that will be initially privatized.”

But the same law also provides that the two complexes may be privatized not earlier than 10 years from the effectivity of the law.

It further provides that their privatization shall be left to the discretion of the Power Sector Assets and Liabilities Management (PSALM) Corp., in consultation with Congress.

The 10-year moratorium for the privatization of Agus and Pulangui dams will expire in 2011.

Sources said only the two power complexes and Angat Dam in Luzon have remained under government control after EPIRA took effect in 2001.

Dureza said MinDA was still undecided on the issue, adding they are yet to consolidate and hold consultations before coming up with an official position.

The Power Alternative Agenda in Mindanao (PALAG Mindanao) has been the most vocal in opposing the privatization. Composed of at least 23 groups, PALAG has campaigned throughout major cities in Mindanao to heighten public support against the move.

The group argued that if the winning bidder pays a high price, consumers will have to pay higher electricity rates to enable it to recoup its investments.

Aside from economic costs, the group has also warned against social costs, including the possibility that the privatization might jeopardize the peace process between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

Apart from lobbying for the exclusion of the two power complexes from privatization, the group has advocated for the promotion of an alternative model of the Mindanao energy sector “that ensures people’s collective rights are upheld and promoted and that the energy resources of Mindanao is used and managed in a sustainable manner bound by the principles of sustainable development and social justice”.

It has pushed for the establishment of a Mindanao Hydropower Corporation.

Dureza said the real battle is convincing Congress to make amendments to the EPIRA and that advocates against privatization need to touch base with members of the House of Representatives from Mindanao.

Iligan Rep. Vicente Belmonte has filed House Bill No. 7106 amending provisions of the EPIRA titled “Expressing the strong opposition of the House of Representatives to the sale and the privatization of the Agus and Pulangi hydroelectric plant complexes in Mindanao.” (Walter I. Balane/MindaNews)