Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Mindanao crisis and Imperial Manila

AS a direct result of the Mindanao power situation, retired Mindanao political leader Homobono Adaza is coming out of retirement to form a new political party. He is calling it the Mindanao Action Party.

Adaza was a leftist, revolution-minded student leader. He became congressman and governor of Misamis Oriental. He turned into a promoter of coups and a heckler of ruling presidents. In 2010, he authored a book of political reminiscences and retired from active political involvement. Known as an expert constitutionalist, he has decided to forgo his quiet life and respond to calls from fellow Mindanaoans to provide leadership to those whose revulsion for “Imperial Manila” has lately been re-ignited.

This new feeling of ill-will for the center among a mixture of businessmen and politicians, Christians and Muslims, has apparently been triggered by the national government’s decision to ignore what Mindanao people were hoping for from President Benigno Aquino 3rd at the Mindanao Power Summit last weekend.

Together with cruel natural calamities, the latest damage to Mindanao’s social and economic development and well being has been caused by brownouts and blackouts. Mindanao has been gripped by a power shortage crisis for more than a year.

What makes this new blow to Mindanao something to count against uncaring and exploitative “Imperial Manila” is the perception that the shortage of electricity is caused by decisions of the national government’s National Power Corporation and the National Grid Corporation of the Philippines.

Last weekend the Mindanao Power Summit was held in Davao City. The Mindanaoans were buoyed again by a hope that a permanent and acceptable solution to their island’s power situation would emerge.

Instead they were again disappointed. More than that they even felt insulted. They felt that it was a calloused attitude that the President had toward them when he said at the summit that they had to “bite the bullet.” They would have to face the hard reality that they must either pay for more expensive electricity or accept continued blackouts and brownouts.

Rejection of plea to stop privatization
What the Mindanoans saw at the summit was President Aquino rejecting of their plea to stop the privatization of the power industry in Mindanao. Privatization is what the Napocor and the Energy Department have found to be the solution of the Mindanao power crisis.

The President gave his speech to 300-plus delegates to the summit, mostly Mindanao leaders of business and industry, as well as government officials. He told them that the National Power Corporation’s (Napocor) problem of suffering hundreds of million in losses from its operations in Mindanao would have to end. And this would be done by the national government, which holds the levers that control Napocor, by carrying out the Electric Power Industry Reform Act (Epira).

Now the reason for Epira’s existence is supposed to be to make the power industry serve our country’s needs for social and economic growth and development. With the reforms that were supposed to come about as a result of the Epira Act power costs would come down and all the power requirements of every part of the nation—including Mindanao—would be met. (Note, however, that the privatization mandate in Epira exempts Mindanao.)

Instead, it has turned out through the years that, despite or because of Epira, our country has the highest electricity cost in all Asia. Under Epira, Napocor has become a white elephant and the national government hard-pressed to finance it. Thus, the imperative to sell off Napocor’s assets — power plants and transmission facilities — to private businessmen and industrialists.

Relatively low-priced power in Mindanao
This, in the case of Mindanao, contributed a lot to the feeling of ill will against Imperial Manila. For some business sectors in Mindanao are convinced that the power crisis is an artificial creation of Napocor to set the stage for the privatization of its power plants.

Mindanao has been enjoying comparatively low electricity costs. The people, businesses and industries there—until the crisis that began two years ago or so—have not been paying the extremely expensive power rates of Metro Manila. That was because most of the power generated in Mindanao and distributed to customers in the island come from hydroelectric plants. But these plants have been in need of repair for years but have been neglected. In addition, the Agus River in Lanao and the Polangui River in Bukidnon have not been supplying the Agus-Polangui plants the usual amount of water because both rivers are silted. And the siltation was never attended to. As a result, the amount of electricity provided by the hydropower plants is greatly reduced by about a third of their former capacities.

There are coal-fired and diesel-fired plants in Mindanao. More of the power from these plants, whose price is more than twice that of power generated by the hydroelectric plants, is now distributed to Mindanao customers. Hence, the higher rates Mindanaoans have to pay—despite Napocor’s (and therefore the national government’s) subsidizing some of the higher cost to keep Mindanao power costs from rising too much.

President Aquino tried to explain to his Mindanao Power Summit audience that privatizing Mindanao’s hydroelectric power plants would eventually benefit Mindanaoans. There would be a multiplier effect on business, commerce and investments—and therefore increased employment—in Mindanao, he said.

But he appears not to have persuaded most of them. For the Napocor privatization experience everywhere in the country has shown that power rates have continued to go up, making the private owners amass huge profits while consumers are milked and made to suffer.

At least two Mindanao Catholic bishops have joined the governors, mayors, businessmen and industrialists who berate the President’s stand.

We hope the President turns out to be right in the end. And that Homobono Adaza decides to continue enjoying his retirement because there is no need for him to be fomenting a revolt against Imperial Manila. Manila Times

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