It’s getting harder and harder for President Noynoy Aquino to blame the previous government for the problems besetting the country today. One such problem is the ongoing energy crisis gripping Mindanao. Yes, the problem already existed even before he was elected but he has done nothing to address the situation. His obsession with the persecution of his political enemies, former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo (GMA) and her perceived ally in the Supreme Court, Chief Justice Renato Corona is certainly backfiring on him now.
There’s no need to spell out the economic cost of the daily power disruption in Mindanao. It is unimaginable why not much has been done since GMA left. Calls by those who are allied with PNoy to give him emergency powers to address the power shortage is so 2010, back when some congressmen and governors allied with GMA likewise suggested the same thing. During GMA’s term, the mere mention of “emergency powers” could send shivers down the spine of GMA’s critics though ironically, one of those who is advocating that the same thing be granted to PNoy is convicted mutineer and staunch GMA critic, Senator Antonio Trillanes. It’s probably another way of thanking PNoy for pardoning him and giving him his freedom. Now that he is part of the system, Trillanes should realize how difficult it was for GMA to deal with the crisis then without undermining the stakeholders particularly since she was also preoccupied with problems such as ex-soldiers who were trying to mount a coup d’Ã©tat…but I digress.
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PNoy’s allies are making it look like granting him emergency powers to address the energy crisis is the best option. I mean, after ignoring the problem for two years, they want people to think that since the situation is “urgent”, PNoy has to do something drastic to fix it. Anyway, whatever he is planning to do, let’s just hope it will be a long-term solution. Because just like with most things in the Philippines like sending workers abroad to address the shortage of dollar reserves, the government will likely find a short-term solution to make the problem go away or be someone else’s problem after their term ends.
PNoy is said to have scheduled an emergency meeting with the stakeholders in Mindanao in April to discuss the energy crisis. It is interesting to note that the late former Department of Energy Secretary Angelo Reyes also held DoE-led power stakeholders’ meetings in key cities in Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao. A proposed fast-tracked solution that included leasing power generator sets and the transfer of power barges from Luzon or Visayas was recommended after the meeting. The same hurdle involving congressional approval was also the issue before then President Arroyo could act. That was February of 2010. Our best guess is that nothing came out of it since the Presidential election transpired a month later coming with the usual drama that surrounds every election especially with PNoy being elected. Let’s not forget that former Secretary Reyes was also embroiled in a corruption scandal in the military, which resulted in his taking his own life.
It seems like the people of Mindanao are victims of too much politics in government. It’s so obvious that the people in charge of making decisions that affect the inhabitants of the second largest island in the country are suffering from analysis-paralysis. There are even conflicting reports about the real situation. Some people are saying that the power interruption and brownouts is the result of “deliberate acts and are part of a ploy of power distributors and the Aquino administration to justify the construction of more coal-fired power plants and other extractive energy projects such as Pulangi V Mega Dam.” Senator Koko Pimental is even calling for a Senate inquiry to find out what is really going on. This can only mean that the current Energy Secretary is not competent enough to give the people the most reliable information they need to evaluate the situation.
It’s not really fair that environmentalists are blaming the crisis on the greedy corporations. These environmentalists just need to recall the warning issued by people from the National Grid Corp. of the Philippines (NGCP) in 2010 that there will be a “power crisis three to five years from now”. Their prediction is just coming earlier than expected. Two years ago the region was already suffering from three to six hour blackouts due to power shortages brought about by reduced water levels at hydroelectric power plants in Mindanao. Today, not only are these power plants in need of repair and costly maintenance to run at full capacity, population growth has also increased the power needs of the region.
Perhaps call it unlucky but because people are slowly becoming aware of the risks, gone are the days when you can easily put up a dam or build a nuclear power plant without getting in trouble from environmentalist groups. Thanks to the nuclear meltdown in Japan after the recent earthquake, nowadays you can guarantee that people who are “concerned” about the environment or about safety will have their say about any proposal to build an alternative power source. Finding an “environmentally-sustainable” energy solution is all well and good except nothing is perfect. If we can’t survive without electricity, we need to do something about the problem and doing so will involve building structures that might upset some parts of the ecosystem. That is simply the price to pay for the increase in energy demand due to our steady annual population growth.
It’s not like the noise generated by environmentalists can stop PNoy from building the coal-fired power plant in Mindanao. He had reportedly okayed the construction of coal plants throughout the country: “in Isabela, Batangas, Manila, Quezon, Zambales, Davao del Sur, Saranggani and South Cotabato provinces. The year 2011 saw the inauguration of power plants in Cebu and Iloilo. And also, the government has granted tax holidays to companies investing on coal plants, such as Japanese corporation TeaM Energy in Pagbilao, Quezon, Petron in Limay, Bataan, and Therma South, Inc. of Aboitiz in Davao City.”
Why are environmentalists against coal-fired power stations? Aside from being non-renewable, they need huge amounts of fuel, which means truckloads of coal constantly. The plant also needs reserves where they can pile the coal and this will cover a large area of land next to the power station, which can destroy plant life and ruin landscapes. Coal is also the product of mining, an activity that is also a controversial topic in our country today due to its impact on the environment.
Why can’t the government build more dams? According to NGPC, a comprehensive dredging plan needs to be undertaken to the heavily silted Lake Mainit, the fourth largest lake in the country before a dam can be built. The plan to build a hydro power plant there in 2001 was shelved due to some “hitches”. You can take your pick among the usual “hitches” major government projects usually experience in the past because they are all too similar to the last one that put an end to projects moving ahead.
According to Senator Sergio Osmeña III, chairman of the Senate committee on energy, blame lies in “the executives and lawmakers in Mindanao and the environmentalist group Greenpeace for the island’s power woes characterized by crippling eight-hour daily power outages.” The politician insists that they have been “spoiled” because the people of Luzon and Visayas have been subsidizing the cost of Mindanao’s electricity. Former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo who was said to have agreed to subsidize the island, buying electricity for P3.50 a kilowatt-hour but selling it for only P2. And this subsidy is part of the reason any alternative solution or rise in cost is greeted with either skepticism or indignation by the players in Mindanao. Whatever GMA’s reasons for doing what she did, it kept people happy and forget they had an energy problem.
What are the other alternatives? The government should also look into tapping the use of natural gas. It releases less carbon dioxide than coal or oil, so it is better for the environment. Since Energy Secretary Jose Rene Almendras confirmed a new natural gas find off Palawan, the government should prioritize this as a long-term solution. One of the biggest advantages of using natural gas is the fact that there is so much of it. In Singapore, over 60% of its electricity is generated by gas. Singapore imports natural gas via pipeline from Malaysia and Indonesia, and also uses manufactured gas. Singapore officials are studying sourcing liquefied natural gas (LNG) as well, to further diversify supply. Fortunately for them, Singapore’s neighboring countries have large natural gas resources. Singapore also has a liberalized energy market, which has resulted in a more competitive market and reduced energy costs ensuring Singapore’s continued competitiveness.
One thing’s for sure. The energy crisis in Mindanao can become a countrywide problem if the supply does not meet the demand over a prolonged period. If you were an enterprising person, I suggest you go into the energy market because the people in the energy business are definitely making a killing. Which is probably the reason why the present crop of oligarchs who own the energy businesses in the country is against liberalizing the economy, and since PNoy is one of them, he is part of the problem.
In life, things are not always what they seem.