ZAMBOANGA CITY: Business and religious leaders in Mindanao rebuked the government for failing to address the power crisis in the region that is feared to worsen and may lead to longer outages.
Zamboanga City Chamber of Commerce President Cholo Soliven gave a stinging criticism of the national government during a radio interview on Saturday, saying it was not doing enough to resolve the power problem in the South.
“Why didn’t the government do anything when it knew the power crisis was coming? The government did not plan for this crisis well. Failing to plan was planning to fail,” Soliven said.
Zamboanga City endures daily brownouts that last 10 hours. In other areas such as Davao and Cagayan de Oro, it lasts from 6 hours to 7 hours. Zamboanga, the second largest city in Mindanao, has the second largest number of banks.
Environment leader Jericho Bustamante suspects that someone may be working behind the scenes to prolong the power crisis, since there have been reports that there was “abundant” water flowing from the Maria Cristina Falls in Iligan City. Mindanao draws much of its electricity from hydro dams.
“Matuwid na Daan, madilim naman,” he said, referring to President Benigno Aquino’s slogan of “Matuwid na Daan [straight path].”
According to some estimates, businesses in Mindanao are losing close to P200 million a day because of the outages.
Laymen and religious leaders have joined the clamor for the national government to solve Mindanao’s power woes. Among the more vocal is Efren Santos, president of the Faithful Navigators and 4th Degree Knights of Columbus.
“What is the national government doing? With all the national government agencies in the government, all of them failed to address the power crisis. What a shame,” Santos told The Manila Times.
Zamboanga City needs around 90 megawatts but the local power distribution utility can only supply up to 50 megawatts, George Ledesma, general manager of Zamboanga City Electric Cooperative, said.
The long brownouts have also disrupted bank services and caused bank equipment to break down, reported Dr. Myl Amsid, senior manager of the Bank of Philippine Islands and adviser of the local bankers association of Zamboanga.
Even the medical sector is affected. Because of the brownouts, hospitals can no longer provide emergency medical services to patients.
Ledesma urged power consumers to pray for rain.
Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate also blamed the government for Mindanao’s power problems.
Zarate said the situation worsened because the government sold two power barges —one in Nasipit, Agusan del Norte and in Maco, Compostela Valley—to the Aboitiz group in 2009 for $30 million. Together, the two barges produce 200 megawatts.
He noted that the 96-megawatt Mt. Apo Geothermal plant was also sold to the Lopez-controlled Energy Development Corp.
“This privatization effectively made Mindanaoans virtual hostages of the power cartel.
This is made even worst by the President’s indifferent declaration two years ago, offering Mindanaoans with only two options: pay even higher electricity or suffer more rotating brownouts,” Zarate said.
Zarate, who hails from Davao, lamented that the government’s remaining major power asset, the Agus-Pulangi hydropower plant, which has a capacity of 700 MW, is bogged down with problems because there is no money for maintenance.
Heavy siltation has also reduced the plant’s capacity to 500 megawatts.
“We fear that the current Mindanao power situation will once again be used by the Aquino government to fast-track the privatization of the Agus-Pulangi Hydropower Plant Complex. Instead of prioritizing the development of renewable energy, this situation will also be used to justify the entry of more dirty energy sources like coal-fired power plants, which ironically are also heavily water-dependent technology,” Zarate said.
“It is high time to put an end to this failed experiment and we return the power sector, this very basic public service, back to the effective control of the state,” he added.
With Llanesca Panti