The power hearings have unraveled incompetence, tragedy and farce. But more serious is that our country’s National Grid is controlled by Chinese experts and executives. This is a grave national security risk.
Ok, we remember these things about 9/11, that day of infamy in the US. Then President George W. Bush immediately declared a war on Osama bin Laden, the mastermind of the horrific suicide attacks on the Twin Towers. But even as the declaration was made, and Osama was pointed out as the representative of evil, members of the Bin Laden family who were then in the US on a business/leisure trip were airlifted out of the US to safety. And in the midst of an air travel ban that affected almost all Americans at that.
We have a description of that particular move by the Bush the 2nd administration to make the airlift of the Bin Laden family an urgent, national priority while the rest of Americans across the globe could not travel by air. We call that a horrific tragedy mixed with a heavy dose of farce.
An e-mail I recently received suggested that something very similar to that has been happening in our country. And it unraveled at the most unlikely setting—the Supreme Court hearings on the proposed power rate increase.
This is the short version of the e-mail:
“With the tensions between the Philippines and China at an all-time high, and with China reacting aggressively on many instances, one would expect the Philippine government to keep Chinese officials from occupying strategic positions in some sensitive Philippine agencies, especially in agencies that set policies vital to the national economy and the broader society.
“It is a standard and perfectly legitimate policy. There is no quibble about that. But, sadly, this is not the case in the Philippine bureaucracy. Chinese officials involved in the power sector, would you believe, occupy some of the most strategic, policy-setting post at the National Grid Corporation of the Philippines, whose function is to oversee and maintain the electric transmission lines and power substations in the country.
“The NGCP, this is the hard truth, has been the most pivotal power agency. And despite that ultra-sensitive mandate, those at its helm are not Filipinos. But Chinese power officials who are, first and foremost, citizens of a country that has ben throwing its weight across the Asian region and has been bullying defense-deficient countries such as the Philippines.
“More, the Chinese officials at the NCGP are concerned about China’s stake at the NGCP—which should not have been there in the first place. To be brutal about it, there is a zero sense altruism in them. They are not worried about things such as making sure that electricity is delivered at the cheapest cost possible.”
The e-mail identified the Chinese officials at the NGCP as Wen Bo, who is NGCP’s chief technical officer, Ma Ruoxin, who was identified as NGCP’s chief executive adviser and assistant chief technical officer for system operations, and Du Shigang, who sits as a member of the NCGP Board of Directors. Ma and Wen also sit on the Board like Du. Wen, according to the grapevine, is actually the Big Man at the NGCP on technical and operational matters.
Du represents SGCC, or the State Grid Corporation of China, which apparently has an outsized stake at the NGCP.
This arrangement is definitely not all right. Associate Justice Marvic Leonen, puzzled and perplexed by the Chinese control of NGCP, questioned the policy-setting structure of the NCGP during the SC hearings on the power rate.
The NGCP has been criticized for acting like a fortress of indifference during the critical period that started in November last year, when generation cost of power started surging. The Malaya plant remained idle during the Malampaya shutdown and the NGCP was acting as if everything were normal in the power sector.
Why was no red alert sounded? Why was the surging spot prices considered as just one of those things? As overseer of the whole transmission infrastructure, the NGCP should have taken the lead in alerting all stakeholders in the power sector about an obvious anomaly—spot prices surging even with all the assurances that supply was adequate. And it could have initiated the putting into service of Malaya during the Malampaya shutdown.
At the senate hearings, it was found out that the NCGP issued one alert, the “ yellow alert” type, which simply meant that supply was tight. This was not like raising the red flag, or the blasting of emergency sirens, or calling on every stakeholder to do something fast and urgent to rein in the surging prices and the vanishing supply.
This raised the inevitable question. Was the NCGP part of a cabal to play around with the spot market and cause the upward spiral of electricity rates? And who are the IPPs in that cabal?
A simple calculation presented during the Senate hearings raised this suspicion. Had Malaya been in operation during the Malampay shutdown, WESM prices could have been much, much lower.
What was made clear at the SC and the Senate hearings was this: the NGCP bungled mightily in carrying out its vital mandate as a grid operator. The blame could be one of the two: systemic incompetence at the NGCP or placing the vital grid agency under the management of people who have no stake in the present and future of the country. Or both.
Whatever the reason is, this question is still worth asking. Why is the agency at the back, front and center of power scheduling and transmission run by people who would not even lose a night’s sleep even if the country were to descend into hellish, nightmarish outages?