The Mindanao power crisis

Published by rudy Date posted on August 24, 2010

Three months ago when I visited Zamboanga del Sur the province was suffering from frequent and prolonged brownouts brought about by the dry spell. Rain has since fallen in sufficient volumes to bring up the level of water of Lake Lanao, the biggest source of electric power in Mindanao. The power crisis that crippled Mindanao since February is over.

All corners of Mindanao felt the effect of the power crisis. The Zamboanga del Sur I Electric Cooperative (ZAMSURECO-I) survived only because its employees, general manager included, agreed to a pay-cut at the height of the crisis.

With the worst over, the electric cooperative could embark on its annual celebration of its foundation anniversary. Now 38 years old, ZAMSURECO-I can boast of having energized all barangays in its franchise area, reducing system loss from 18 percent to 11.76 percent in four years, maintaining a 100 percent collection efficiency, an annual representative assembly of its member-consumers, and a constructive partnership with the local government units. This partnership might eventually result in the setting up of a mini-hydro plant–the viability of the cooperative is tied up to sufficient and reliable supply of electric power, just as the economic progress of Zamboanga del Sur, Pagadian City and the municipalities of the province is adversely affected by the recurrent problem of power shortage. Stable power supply and affordability are the common concern of the cooperative and the local political leaders.

The electric cooperatives, while being mandated by the government to energize even the most remote of sitios–very unviable from a business-point of view–seldom have the resources to develop their own generating sources. However, some electric cooperatives have ventured into mini-hydro plants. Despite the recent crisis caused by the dry spell, hydro power still seems to be the only option seriously considered by electric cooperatives.

The power crisis was so severe that it made national news. However, while Pres. Benigno Aquino III, in his first State of the Nation Address, talked about National Power Corporation’s subsidizing power rates at the expense of viability, he failed to connect this to the situation in Mindanao. It is old news that NAPOCOR has been forced to maintain power rates below cost of production and that this is a major reason why no investors are interested in putting up power generating facilities in the Visayas and Mindanao. It would have been welcome had the president, in his SONA, made a specific commitment to expanding Mindanao’s power generating capacity and addressing the root causes of the power shortage.

Of course, Pagadian City, like the rest of Mindanao, is far from the corridors of national, political power. The voice of the electric cooperatives and their consumers is nothing but a whisper. APEC and 1-Care party-list parties that both carry the interest of the member-consumers of the electric cooperatives combined garnered more than one million votes–APEC won one seat, 1-Care two–but due to pending disqualification cases, neither party has been proclaimed.

The consumers, however, are also represented through the Electric Consumers Advocacy of the Philippines, a relatively new organization supported by the electric cooperatives themselves and headed by former TESDA director general Edicio dela Torre. Consumer, after all, is king. The electric cooperatives combined have more than eight million member-consumers majority of whom are households. Stable supply at an affordable price remains the primary concern of the consumers, whether household or business.

Everybody agrees that peace in Mindanao could provide a tremendous boost to the entire country. Yet, we can’t even solve something as simple as a power crisis. After the massive brownouts, we–the rest of the country–have forgotten. Is it that our concern for Mindanao is dictated by political correctness and the international community’s interest in the Muslim separatist movement rather than our considering Mindanao an indispensable, integral and equal part of the archipelago? Mindanao, in our collective consciousness as a nation, is exotic, backward and dangerous: A place that makes it to the news only by virtue of massacres, kidnappings, war, and power crisis. Ironically, it is a Mindanawan–Hon. Manny Pacquiao–who gives the country international publicity, fame and honor today.

The public might have forgotten about the Mindanao electric power crisis, but hopefully those whose decisions today can prevent a future power crisis, have not. Economic development, of which stable, affordable supply of power is a vital ingredient, is needed to bring about peace. –MARIT STINUS-REMONDE, Manila Times

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