LGUs in the dark over Mindanao outages

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/13 April) – Many local government chief executives appeared to have been kept in the dark over the curtailment of power in their areas, where brownouts would last up to four hours since January this year.

Governor Mohamad Khalid Dimaporo of Lanao del Norte is one of the governors who attended the Mindanao Power Summit on Friday, April 13 in Davao City. Dimaporo is keen on finding out why there is a power shortage in Mindanao despite the availability of various energy sources such as the Agus hydroelectric power plants located in Lanao del Norte. MindaNews Photo by Ruby Thursda“We are here in this summit to get as much information so that we could have something to say to our constituents,” Lanao del Norte Gov. Mohammad Khalid Dimaporo told a news conference at the sides of the Mindanao Power Summit on Friday at the Waterfront Insular Hotel Davao.

Dimaporo and other members of the Confederation of Governors, City and Municipal Mayors and Presidents of Leagues of Provinces and Municipalities in Mindanao (Confed) attended the summit.

Dimaporo’s comment came three months after brownouts lasting hours have beset households and businesses without any of the energy agencies informing the causes of the outages.

“We have the same comment as you have, but we need to rely on facts and we have to know the situation because we have been battered by our constituents in our province,” he said, reacting to the commentary that the government energy agencies and the private generating companies had conspired to curtail power and force government to sell the hydroelectric power plants and increase electricity rates.

The summit did not tackle the issue raised by Dimaporo.

Gov. Mujiv Hataman of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) shared the same sentiment, as he and Dimaporo disclosed that the governors in Mindanao had reached a consensus on certain points, such as asking the national government to discontinue its plan to privatize the hydroelectric power plants in Lanao and Bukidnon.

Davao del Norte governor and Confed president Rodolfo del Rosario told the summit participants that the brownouts had already affected business and discouraged investors. But he said this should not pressure the national government into selling the power plants.

“We would ask Congress to revisit the Epira (Electric Power Industry Reform Act) and look again at the provision on the privatization aspect of the assets of the National Power Corp. (NPC) and to rescind the operational management agreement between Napocor and PSALM (Power Sector Assets and Liabilities Management) Corp. because the Napocor has been earning billions in the plants but its money that is poured into PSALM was not being spent for its rehabilitation and maintenance,” he said.

Sarangani Gov. Miguel Rene Dominguez said he expected the outages to recur anew after the series of power curtailments in 2010 and previous years. “There have been no new power plants established since then, and I knew it was coming.”

But he said “the national government role is always to make an enabling environment for business”.

Gov. Douglas Cagas of Davao del Sur rejected suspicions of government involvement in the alleged conspiracy behind the power curtailment, saying that “it’s illogical for government to kill business.”

He, however, said that the local officials should be “properly appraised of the situation.”

The Confed, along with the other sectoral organizations, have expressed anxiety over the possible increases in electricity rates once the plants would be placed on auction.

The representative of the Mindanao Commission on Women also rejected the idea of interconnecting Mindanao to the grids in the Visayas and Luzon, which have surpluses, fearing that the huge cost involved in laying the submarine cables would be charged to the consumers in Mindanao.

The Department of Energy could not be immediately reached for comment.

It was Secretary Lualhati Antonino, chair of the Mindanao Development Authority who voiced out early last month the indignation of the affected provinces as she demanded a Congressional inquiry into the power curtailment and expressed suspicions there was manipulation behind it.

The House committee on energy and the special committee on Mindanao affairs eventually held a joint public hearing. (MindaNews)