Saturday, 20 February 2010

Opposition urges Arroyo to use emergency powers in Mindanao

by Eileen A. Mencias
Manila Standard

OPPOSITON lawmakers on Thursday urged President Gloria Arroyo to call a special session so that Congress can declare a state of emergency in Mindanao to deal with an energy crisis that they said could doom the May elections.

“How about a state of emergency to solve the problem in Mindanao? We need the power right now,” said Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez, who is running for re-election under the banner of ousted President Joseph Estrada.

“I want the [House] committee [on energy] to call on the President to solve [the problem in] Mindanao...we can have a failure of elections when you cannot count 12 million votes,” he said.

The House committee on energy led by Pampanga 2nd District Rep. Mikey Arroyo conducted a hearing Thursday to look into the frequent brownouts in the Visayas and Mindanao and how those could affect the coming elections.

Speaking at the hearing, Rodriguez said power outages in Mindanao were now occurring three times a day for two to three hours each time. In Surigao, he said, outages lasted eight hours.

Cavite Rep. Jesus Crispin Remulla, a senatorial candidate and spokesman for the opposition Nacionalista Party, supported Remulla’s call for direct action by the Energy Department.

“We have to face reality... it’s a bitter pill,” he said.

Parañaque Rep. Roilo Golez said power barges from Singapore and Taiwan could be mobilized in the short term, but long-term solutions must be found.

“The power supply could fluctuate, a four-megawatt margin is not a comfortable allowance,” Golez said.

Remulla and several other legislators are seeking a review of the Electric Power Industry Reform Act in light of the country’s power supply problems. The law prohibits the debt-saddled National Power Corp. from taking on new obligations, which will happen if it contracts power on its own.

Under the law, Congress must acknowledge that there is an “imminent crisis” and declare a region to be in a state of emergency before the government or Napocor can enter into new energy supply agreements.

Energy Secretary Angelo Reyes was not at the hearing because he was in Mindanao, talking to stakeholders there, Arroyo said.

He added that a new hearing would be held so that Reyes could attend.

At Thursday’s hearing, the National Grid Corp. of the Philippines assured the committee that there would be enough power on election day.

“The reserves vary from 214 megawatts up to as high as 1,000 megawatts on May 10. We have scheduled maintenance and repairs the previous months so that the power plants will provide power during the election month of May,” the company’s deputy assistant chief technical officer, Carlito Claudio, said.

“The problem is in Mindanao. Because of El Niño, there’s not enough power generated by the hydroelectric power plants...On May 10, there will be a shortage of four megawatts, but we can offset it if we can tap into the generators [held by private companies and individuals in the region].”

Energy officials estimate that the government can tap an extra 80 megawatts from private power generators in the region.

Power Sector Assets and Liabilities Management Corp. president Jose Ibazeta blamed the shortage in Mindanao on its heavy reliance on hydroelectric power. The hydroelectric power plants could not supply as much energy during a drought, and one way to solve the problem was to expand the region’s power sources to include coal and diesel, Ibazeta said.

“The problem that’s happening in Mindanao is [due to] the total dependence of Mindanao on the Agus complex. It relies only on hydro,’’ Ibazeta said.

“If there is drought, there is a deficit. The answer to the problem is not to rely on hydro solely and have a mix.”

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