PNoy sees no need for emergency powers

David Yu Santos
The President prefers expediting the construction of new power plants in Mindanao

NOT KEEN. Pres Aquino talks with former Pres Fidel Ramos during the inauguration of the Philippines Expeditionary Forces to Korea (PEFTOK) – Korean War Memorial Hall on Thursday, March 29, where he also told reporters he is "unsure" on using emergency powers to solve the looming energy crisis in Mindanao. (Photo from Malacañang Photo Bureau).

MANILA, Philippines – President Benigno Aquino III would prefer the construction of new power plants in Mindanao even if it would take years to finish, instead of taking emergency powers to solve the looming energy crisis in the region

Speaking to reporters after an inauguration ceremony of a memorial hall dedicated to Filipino Korean war veterans on Wednesday, March 29, the President sounded non-committal to the idea of being granted emergency powers, as proposed by a number of lawmakers. Even Vice President Jejomar Binay is supporting the proposal.

“(I am) unsure if emergency powers are needed to deal with the Mindanao energy problem,” Aquino said.

The President pointed out that aside from being “very, very old,” some of the hydro-electric plants under Mindanao’s power infrastructure, such as the Agus VI hydroelectric power plant located in Iligan City, have been poorly maintained since “nobody took care of it.”

“We are taking care of it now but it will take 30 months to put it back (to work) and increase the generating capacity,” Aquino said.

“Setting up a coal fire plant, which is the fastest, will take about 2 to 3 years,” the President added. The Mindanao-grid depends heavily on a number of hydropower plants as its main source of electricity.

Citing the change in global climate, Aquino hinted that the reliance on hydro as a power source could jeopardize Mindanao’s electricity supply since the “already shifting rain patterns” could not bring the same amount of water to fill up the plants.

At least 2 companies have expressed interest to construct coal fire plants in Mindanao, according to the President. But this has been delayed since it took the companies “a year or over a year to secure the necessary permits.”

Rigorous requirements

The inability to get the go-signal from the local government units where the proposed plants were to be constructed, as well as failure to meet the other requirements such as acquiring the Environmental Compliance Certificate (ECC) and gaining public support through the conduct of consultations were among the reasons the President cited for the projects’ delay.

“The one year that it took for all of the permits to be secured could have been one year already in construction and it would have brought us closer by one year to have the added generating capacity of these 2 coal-powered plants,” Aquino said. “Unfortunately, (the plants) have yet to be constructed because of the delay in securing all of the necessary clearances.”

In Zamboanga City, for example, which is now experiencing 4 to 8 hours of rotating power interruption everyday, a private company has proposed to construct a coal-fired power plant with an initial capacity of 100MW.

But the plant has yet to get a go-signal to operate since the company has to go to the rigorous process of getting permits, amid staunch opposition by environmentalists and cause-oriented groups.

Aquino insisted that even if the government “will expedite the process (to allow the operation of coal fire plants)”, the concerns of the residents living near the plants will be “taken into consideration.”

This is not the first time in recent history that various sectors have proposed the granting of special powers to the President to solve the Mindanao power crisis.

Red alert

In 2010, the Mindanao grid was placed on “red alert” after its power deficiency reached critical level, forcing the National Grid Corporation of the Philippines (NGCP) to implement load curtailment in the entire region.

The island’s power supply had to be shut down since most the plants’ water reservoirs had dried up largely due to the El Niño phenomenon.

Congressional allies of then then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo also proposed to grant her special powers to find immediate solutions to the crisis, but she eventually junked the idea since critics said that it was just a ploy to perpetuate her in office.

Aquino is set to fly to Davao City after the Holy Week to meet with Mindanao stakeholders to find solutions to the recurring power shortage problem in the region. He said the summit will also be a chance to correct “a lot of speculation and false information” that has “caused great uncertainty among the people of Mindanao.” –

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