MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews/14 April) – To the dismay of many, the Mindanao Power Summit, held on Friday in Davao City, did not live up to its billing as a venue where stakeholders may propose alternatives to the supposed power shortage plaguing parts of the island since early this year.
On the contrary, as feared by some sectors, the event simply sought to legitimize the flawed energy development framework that has caused the present power situation in Mindanao, which may also affect Luzon and the Visayas in the near future. To paraphrase former US vice president Al Gore, the government refused to accept the “inconvenient truth.”
President Benigno S. Aquino III quickly dismissed the recommendation of Mindanao stakeholders to stop the full privatization of the power industry, including the generation function. It was like saying, “You can tell me what you think, but this is what I want.” An executive decision had been made to make the people “bite the bullet” even before he boarded the plane for Davao.
Based on what transpired in the summit, as aired on ANC, the participants were quite unanimous in attributing the problem to the ten-year old Electric Power Industry Reform Act (Epira). Even the electric distributors that conveniently call themselves “cooperatives” wanted a review of the law’s provisions on privatization. Mindanao lawmakers floated the idea of creating the Mindanao Power Corporation that would run the Agus and Pulangi hydropower complexes.
Aquino, however, as if to show his own way of biting the bullet, reached deep into his pocket of arguments in defense of this law. He maintained that privatization, the core substance of Epira, remains the only way to solve the looming power crisis. He was blackmailing the people of Mindanao into choosing between higher electricity rates and darkness. What has happened to the National Renewable Energy Program launched last year by the Department of Energy?
With his spirited defense of privatization, Aquino could well be the proverbial gunman himself who wants Mindanao to bite the bullet called higher electricity rates. Before the summit, I was hoping – vainly it seems – that he would at least feign openness to the solutions the island’s stakeholders were going to propose, and keep his finger away from the trigger.
Bayan Muna Rep. Teddy Casiño, who attended the summit, gave a description of the President’s obvious lawyering for private capital that fits his “bite the bullet” metaphor: “He was intent on shooting down the proposals and insisting that Mindanaoans pay for higher rates from private power companies.” [underscoring mine]
Indeed, Aquino’s gunslinging for privatization effectively sidelined alternatives, which could avert not only power shortage but also higher electricity rates caused by increased dependence on dirty power sources like diesel and coal, the primary investments being pushed by private power firms in Mindanao.
Mindanao consumers are being dragged into a shotgun wedding with an energy regime controlled by private firms. The shooter keeps a watchful eye in a dark corner. (H. Marcos C. Mordeno writes mainly on the environment, human rights and politics. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)