ADVOCACY MINDANOW: What’s wrong with Mindanao power?

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DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/25 March) — DYSFUNCTION — A few days ago, I sat in a stakeholders’ forum called by the Mindanao Business Council to look into the power situation in Mindanao. I was shocked to know that the problem is not only about lack of power. There is dysfunction on the level of the key players, PSALM (the government-owned agency tasked to handle the assets of the old NAPOCOR) and NGCP (a privately-owned power distribution company). From what I heard during the forum, both agencies need to put their acts together according to MBC Chair Vic Lao. Power generating companies are complaining about information gridlock.

Businessman Paul Dominguez, my former colleague in government who served under former President Ramos and President Arroyo as “point person” for Mindanao, summarized the core issues: a) dysfunction between NGCP and PSALM; b) dysfunction between NGCP and the power generating companies; c) unresolved dispute between repair contractors in the Lake Lanao’s Agus hydro and the locals. (the company already sent notice it would withdraw from the project which will set back the Mindanao hydro power timelines). And many of the participants were surprised to know for the first time that the controlling interest of NGCP is the Chinese. So what happens if our relations with China turns for the worse? They are in control of our core facility!

Hedcor high official Bobby Orig said the fundamental issue of whether the hydro plants will be privatized or not must be resolved first. Otherwise, PSALM which is mandated as “liquidator” of the Napocor assets will not invest billions to upgrade or repair the plants if they would be forced to sell those assets as per EPIRA law. Aboitiz Co. vice President Art Milan complained about information dysfunction from “higher levels”. As power operators, they are kept in the dark and are agonizing over lack of information.

I had my own complaint as a citizen of Davao del Sur. DASURECO had installed since last December modular gensets courtesy of Alson’s Mapalad power company with 15MW operating capacity. All the papers are in but the approvals are still stuck in Manila ERC and while the province was in total darkness, they could not even run the engines even on a stopgap, provisional arrangement inspite of pleadings. How tragic! How calloused and incompetent Manila has become. Then we have a Department of Energy which cannot even resolve the standoff between two competing electric cooperatives in Davao del Norte’s DANECO and lamely escaping its responsibility by saying that the courts have now jurisdiction. I do not know personally Energy Secretary Petilla but from what I hear from those in the industry, he is not technically suited for that job. Up to now there is no clear explanation of why the Mindanao system collapsed on Feb 27 except to say the maintenance and forced outage of STEAG plant was the proximate cause.

When Paul Dominguez asked MinDA’s Yo Montenegro if the mechanism of the infrastructure monitoring advisory group (IMAG) was helping, he was shaken to be informed that MinDA now under Secretary Lu Antonino collapsed that mechanism which worked during our own watch. MinDA should have been Mindanao’s point agency to help resolve all this. But, sorry to say, it is losing that mandate by default. It is more tragic because it is now a more empowered “authority” (not a mere “council” when Paul and I ran it) and the competent staff are still around. However, MinDA will matter only to the extent Malacanang will allow it. Unfortunately, this seems to be not the case.

Mindanaoans cannot wait for another two years to see better things in the power sector. In fact, the next two years will be worse.

SABAH — I was still head of MEDCO (now MINDA) several years ago when I last visited Kota Kinabalu (KK) in Sabah, Malaysia. Of course, the controversy involving the Sultanate of Sulu had intervened in the meantime that cooled off relations and the connections got lost in the various channels. The cooperation arrangement under the Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines East Asean Growth Area (popularly known as BIMP EAGA) was one of the unintended casualties of the incident. But that’s behind us now. According to Malaysian Consul General Abdullah Zawawi Tahir, there are still about 700,000 Filipinos in Sabah and a good number are availing of the formalization process of getting “documented”. This is still work in progress. With the forthcoming signing of the peace agreement with the MILF, I foresee a “surge” in the re-connections between Malaysia and Mindanao, especially in the business sector. Governments, due to the usual protocols, are usually slow in responding. But the private sector must take over the driver’s seat and be the engines of growth as envisioned. But that window is narrow.

RECONNECTING — A few days ago, I re-connected with Sabah by meeting its 12-member delegation during their visit of Davao City. Pretty Susan Chang, one of the moving spirits in BIMP EAGA during my time, brought her business delegation from Kota Kinabalu (KK) in a roadshow for the forthcoming Sabah International Expo (SIE) in September, 2014. Datuk Seri Panglima Wong, a prominent businessman and head of Sabah’s educational association met with University of Mindanao president Willie Torres in an effort to establish linkages across borders in the higher education sector. I had a long chat with one of the SIE movers retired Brig Gen. Datuk Arulpragasam over dinner hosted by ConGen Abdullah. BIMP EAGA old hand Angie Angliongto of the local chamber of commerce was on hand to escort them all throughout.

I seemed to get the feel that MinDA missed up on its usual good staff support this time on a visiting delegation. Congen Abdullah I was told had to do last minute hotel room arrangements for them. The visitors were expecting to meet MinDA Chair Lu Antonino but for one reason or another, she failed to make it causing the group to cool their heels the whole morning until flight time to Cebu. Well, preparations in Manila for the March 27 peace agreement signing of course must take precedence. But that’s not good enough reason to miss out on the visitors who by the way always spread the red carpet every time anyone of us from Mindanao visits KK.

Kota Kinabalu is now prepositioning itself to be the “hub of the Far East” just like Dubai to the Middle East. I can see it’s steadily moving in that direction. It’s good that business cooperation will effectively put back in the backburners the political issues involving Sabah.

GIANTS’ SHOWDOWN —The world’s giants are in a verbal showdown before the eyes of the world on Russia’s “re-claiming” Crimea from Ukraine. The US and the European Union announced “sanctions” while Russia just sneered. Let’s see who blinks first. We hope however that those skirmishes remain verbal and do not escalate to being physical, otherwise the whole world will be in deep shit!
NO VIOLENCE PLS. — While we all should rejoice the forthcoming signing of the peace agreement with the MILF, let’s not forget that the MNLF agreement of 1996 is still there waiting for convergence. I was speaker during a Rizal Park rally on March 18 to commemorate the famous Jabidah Massacre which triggered the Muslim rebellion years ago with Nur Misuari. I asked for unity and a stop to violence.

HEALTHY LIVING — I attended the opening of a healthy food exhibition at Abreeza Mall last Saturday called Abreeza Organic Fair 2014 upon invitation by Ms. Baby Montemayor of event organizer “Konkordans”. It’s good to know that many are now so concerned about the food they eat and the health problems that we suffer for putting the wrong food in our mouths. The exhibition will run until March 28. I donned the chef’s apron during the opening and gave support to my daughter Ning’s GREEN AGENDA juice for good health! (Lawyer Jesus G. Dureza was government peace panel chair in the negotiations with the MILF under the Arroyo administration from 2001 to 2003 and was later named Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (2005 to 2008). He heads Advocacy MindaNOW Foundation, Inc. and was recently named publisher of the Davao City-based Mindanao Times. This piece is from his syndicated column, Advocacy MindaNOW.)

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