AMID United States President Barack Obama’s endorsement of Engineer Aisa Mijeno’s saltwater lamp prototype (SALt), we should be taking a closer look at United States’ role in the disappointing state of the country’s power sector.
While there are still questions on the technical soundness and economic viability SALt, we should be asking a more salient question: Why do we need these lamps in the first place?
Necessity is the mother of invention. According to Engr. Mijeno, she was inspired by the Kalingas, an indigenous group in the North, who have no access to social services such as electricity. The government’s move to privatize the power sector has resulted in our current paradox: our cities suffer from exorbitant electricity rates while far-flung communities dream of electric lamps.
There is also lackluster support for community-based alternative energy sources amid a power industry that is monopolized by a few companies in partnership with foreign firms.
The power sector is currently dominated by San Miguel Corporation (SMC), Aboitiz Power, and the Lopez group of companies, which collectively supply about 60% of the country’s total electricity; SM tycoon Henry Sy with a majority stake in the National Grid Corporation of the Philippines, and Manuel Pangilinan’s MVP Group which controls power distribution in Luzon through Meralco. SMC and Aboitiz Power are also part of Meralco and are currently moving to wrest control of several electric consumer cooperatives in the country.
The current orientation of the power sector that is profit-driven and foreign-controlled is outlined in the 14-year-old Electric Power Industry Reform Act (EPIRA). The EPIRA follows the template of privatization, denationalization, and deregulation aggressively pushed by the United States since the 1990s. So Obama is being two-faced when he commends Mijeno’s product while his government is actively pushing for the dismantling of social protections for social services under the deregulated and denationalized regimes of such mechanisms as the APEC, the TPP and the WTO.
Moreover, under EPIRA, there is little room for local scientists to harness potential energy resources. Our energy technologies are imported from countries such as the US and China, and often rely on cheap but highly polluting fossil-based technologies.
While we laud attempts by Filipino scientists to use their skills in direct service of the marginalized, the current state of our science and technology that is reliant on foreign technology and inputs will continue to deny the country of great talent and a wealth of resources that can be used for our energy development. Instead of peddling our resources and knowledge output to other countries, we are better off investing in the nationalization of our energy resources, with our local scientists actively involved in the development of the power industry.
Feny Cosico, Secretary General of AGHAM and POWER (People Opposed to Warrantless Electricity Rates) Alliance Convenor