Groups stage human barricades to demand power from EDC’s geothermal plants

KIDAPAWAN CITY (MindaNews / 9 May) – Close to 1,000 protesters from at least 40 civil society groups in North Cotabato barricaded on Thursday the streets leading to the Mindanao sub-office of the Energy Development Corporation (EDC) in Barangay Ilomavis here to demand from the geothermal power plants to divert 25 percent of their total dispatch to the host city and province.

Jay Apiag, of the human rights group Karapatan-North Cotabato, said they set up three blocking points using their people as barricades –along corner Quezon Boulevard and Sudapin Road, along the road leading to Barangay Ginatilan, and along the road to Lake Agko in Barangay Ilomavis near the EDC production field.

They started the protests around 4 a.m. today.

The human barricades, according to Apiag, were aimed at “immobilizing” the operations of the EDC even for just one day.

Yet, none among the buses and pickup trucks that carry EDC employees showed up.

Apiag said the EDC might have been informed about the protest beforehand. “We were even told the EDC has declared holiday or no work today,” he said.

At 6 a.m., the local police led by Supt. Chino Mamburam, the city director, tried to stop the barricade when the protesters failed to present a permit. This resulted in a scuffle between Apiag’s group and Mamburam’s men that lasted for about 15 minutes.

Apiag, who was hurt, said they are contemplating on filing harassment charges against Mamburam and his team.

Mamburam, however, said they are just doing their job.

“The protesters have no permit. We were here to disperse their group and move them to other place where they could not affect the flow of the traffic,” he said.

The protests launched by the Makabayan and other civil society groups are supported by Kidapawan Power (K-Power), an alliance composed of several organizations coming from the business sector, church, academe, NGOs, and other institutions.

Sr. Lalyn Macahilo, OND, head convener of K-Power, said they have at least three demands from the government as a solution to the energy crisis the city and the rest of Mindanao are experiencing.

First, they demand that the host city and province of the geothermal plants would be given a priority load dispatch of at least 25MW from the 100MW total capacity of the EDC plants. “This is our preferential right as host to two big geothermal power plants of the EDC. We have legal basis for our claim,” said Macahilo.

Second, she said they are urging the government to stop the privatization of the country’s power industry, especially the remaining hydroelectric power plants in the Agus complex in the Lanao provinces and Pulangi in Bukidnon.

Third, her group wants the scrapping of the Energy Power Industry Reform Act, which according to her had caused power consumers a lot of “trouble and miseries,” especially when it concerns electricity rates.

Since February, the city has been experiencing long rotating brownouts that would usually last five to six hours a day.

Vicente Baguio, spokesman for the Cotabato Electric Cooperative (Cotelco), said the co-op was allotted only 10 megawatts of electricity by the National Power Corporation-Power Sector Assets and Liabilities Management (NPC-PSALM).

The power demand of the province is at least 32MW.

To supply the needs of the more than 98,000 power consumers in North Cotabato, Cotelco buys additional 8MW from Therma Marine, Inc. of AboitizPower.

“Yet, with only 18MW (10MW from the NPC and 8MW from the TMI) available for North Cotabato, this is not enough to supply our electricity needs, so, there is really a crisis here,” said Baguio.

Macahilo said their protests will not stop today.

In fact, she said, they are contemplating on filing a class suit against the Department of Energy, NPC, National Grid Corporation of the Philippines, and other power firms to demand the priority load dispatch to Kidapawan City and North Cotabato.

The group has earlier supported the filing of a mandamus with prayer for injunction against several power firm executives. The case was filed in May 2012 by Kidapawan Vice Mayor Joseph Evangelista to demand from the Department of Energy the 25 percent electricity from the Mt. Apo geothermal power plant.

Evangelista said until today he is still waiting for the court resolution as regards the case.