Gatchalian hits 'shallow' NEA probe into Palawan blackouts

MANILA, Philippines – Senate energy committee chair Sherwin Gatchalian hit the National Electrification Administration (NEA) for its "weak" investigation into the extended power outages that have plagued Palawan since January 2017.

Gatchalian, who earlier ordered NEA to probe the crisis, said the results and recommendations submitted to the panel were insufficient, considering the gravity of the problem in the province. NEA is the overall regulator of electric cooperatives in the country.

Di ako happy, preliminary lang yan eh. (I'm not happy with the report, that's just preliminary). NEA should start flexing its muscles. It only gave general recommendations, walang (no) sanctions,” Gatchalian told Rappler in an interview on Monday, August 14.

Consumers have been complaining about the frequent and long power outages in the areas covered by Palawan Electric Cooperative (Paleco). These include Puerto Princesa City; the municipalities of Dumaran, El Nido (Bacuit), Roxas, San Vicente, Taytay, Bataraza, Brooke's Point, Narra, Quezon, Rizal (Marcos), Sofronio Española, and Aborlan; and the island municipalities of Agutaya, Araceli, Cagayancillo, Cuyo, Magsaysay, and Balabac.

The Senate panel said consumers have endured as much as 18 hours of power interruptions at least 9 times a month since the start of the year. (READ: Puerto Princesa gov't eyes lawsuit vs power distributor)

The senator questioned why NEA did not sanction electric cooperatives and power suppliers when it has the authority to impose penalties.

Instead, what NEA recommended was the continuous right-of-way clearing and vegetation management, which are already standard operating procedures, Gatchalian said.

“It's time for NEA to dig deeper into the problems. Its recommendations are general and only operational – clearing vegetation, informing the public 3 days before the power interruption – dapat naman every day mo 'yan ginagawa. Ang babaw. Medyo for me, incomplete. It doesn't go to the heart of the issue. Bakit no investigation into the generation companies? (You should really do those things every day. It's shallow. For me, it's incomplete. It doesn't go to the heart of the issue. Why was there no investigation into the generation companies?)” he said.

With the "weak" results of the NEA probe, Gatchalian said he would now call for a full Senate investigation into the Palawan power crisis

Show cause order

Gatchalian reiterated that the failure of DMCI Power, one of the 3 independent power producers (IPP) contracted by Palawan Electric Cooperative (Paleco), is largely to blame for the mess. DMCI has failed to deliver its 25-megawatt (MW) electric power production agreement with Paleco.

He said NEA did not answer why there were still no penalties imposed on DMCI and why Paleco did not rescind its contract despite DMCI's negligence. 

In a response issued to Rappler, NEA said it would now issue a 'show cause' order to all electric cooperatives, including Paleco, to explain why they should not be sanctioned.

NEA, however, said it only assists cooperatives in complying with laws and any sanctions should be imposed by the Energy Regulatory Commission.

"Any violations committed in connection with any ERC issuances may be sanctioned by the appropriate body, which is the ERC. For this purpose, NEA will furnish a copy [of the report] to the ERC, with NEA's recommendations, so that the latter may implement such penalties and sanctions they deem necessary and in order to avoid similar occurrences in the future," Artis Nikki Tortola, deputy administrator for technical services said in a statement on Tuesday. – Rappler.com

Camille Elemia

Camille Elemia is Rappler's lead reporter for media, disinformation issues, and democracy. She won an ILO award in 2017. She received the prestigious Fulbright-Hubert Humphrey fellowship in 2019, allowing her to further study media and politics in the US. Email camille.elemia@rappler.com

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