Blackouts (Part two)
EYES WIDE OPEN - Iris Gonzales (The Philippine Star) - April 18, 2019 - 12:00am

The rotating blackouts that hit us recently have raised a lot of questions on the country’s precarious power supply situation.

Consumer groups and lawmakers have joined the fray. They want the Department of Energy to explain the real power supply situation after several areas in Luzon suffered power outages for two days last week.

CitizenWatch Philippines convenor Hannah Viola made a good point when she noted that the issuance of two consecutive red alerts was more than those issued in the previous years.

“In 2018, the Luzon grid was not placed under any red alert status, while in 2015 and 2017, only one red alert was announced,” she said.

Lawmakers said they would investigate the situation.

I hope that more than the media mileage they get from these televised congressional investigations, our lawmakers will really get to the bottom of things and finally get some answers from all stakeholders.

I wonder for the instance if the power plants that bogged down last week tried to do their maintenance shutdowns before the summer.

Could these have prevented the unplanned shutdowns?

Did the National Grid Corp. of the Philippines (NGCP), the grid operator, ask the power companies to schedule their preventive maintenance shutdowns early on to prepare for the increased demand in the summer and during the elections?

If it did, what happened? Did the Department of Energy look into the situation as well? The DOE should be able to have an oversight function in this regard so it can synchronize and coordinate the maintenance activities of power plants.

I also wonder why we did not have enough reserves during the period. What kind of reserves do we need now?

I also reiterate the point I raised in my previous column — we need new plants because some of our power plants are already so old.

There’s also a favorite conspiracy theory when there is a power supply crunch -- did the so-called big boys in the power sector collude to create an artificial shortage?

Is it stipulated in the power supply contracts of these generation companies that they will get paid even when their plants are not working?

Filipinos deserve answers. I hope we get them soon. More importantly, I hope there will be no more rotational blackouts.

Razon back in the power business

Speaking of power, Enrique “EKR” Razon is on the lookout for more opportunities in the power sector, marking a homecoming of sorts for the ports tycoon and casino magnate who was once part of the country’s transmission network.

It looks like Razon is just getting his feet wet in the power generation and distribution business. I wouldn’t be surprised if he becomes a major power player in the country and compete with the big boys -- the Lopezes, Aboitizes, Ayalas, the San Miguel Group and the group of Manuel V. Pangilinan.

Razon, after all, knows how to build sprawling empires. He did this in his ports business, making it the global ports operator that it is now. Now, his integrated casino resort is also going strong and expanding.

In power, he already has the franchise to distribute power in Panay. He is also involved in the 245-megawatt Chico River Dam project,  which will distribute power to some parts of Luzon.

His interest in power won’t stop in these two projects, he said.

He is also looking at distributing power in Palawan but nothing has been firmed up yet. He will also be looking at other opportunities as they come along.

It was only a matter of time that EKR would make his comeback in the power sector.

In 2007, Razon’s Monte Oro Grid Resources Corp. won the 25-year concession to operate the National Transmission Corp. Three years later, EKR eventually sold his stake in Monte Oro to Henry “BigBoy” Sy Jr.

The best and worst customs administration

The feisty and no non-sense Ma. Lourdes “Des” Mangaoang, the whistleblower in the alleged P11 billion shabu smuggling scandal that hit the Bureau of Customs last year, called me on Tuesday fuming about reports circulating on social media about her.

The reports quoted her as saying that President Duterte’s administration is the worst administration.

Atty. Des said she never said that. She believes that anti-Duterte groups are using her name to slam the current government.

“Sometime in October 2018, Arnold Clavio interviewed me live on his radio/tv program. He asked me which customs administration was the best. I replied that it was during former Commissioner (Guillermo) Parayno’s time because that was the time that the BOC’s processes were computerized and the Philippine Customs was ahead of most other countries,” Atty. Des said.

Mr. Clavio then asked her which customs administration was the worst.

“I quickly replied that it is during the administration of Commissioner (Isidro) Lapena because the biggest drug shipment slipped through the BOC during his time and other contrabands were being smuggled in many ports,” Atty. Des said.

She said her name is being dragged into the issue because of dirty politics.

With elections just around the corner, I’m not surprised that high-profile government personalities such as Atty. Des are eating intrigues and politics for breakfast.

But outside politics, I do hope that someday the Bureau of Customs will indeed become a bureau that is efficient and free from corruption, one that Filipinos truly deserve.

Iris Gonzales’ email address is Follow her on Twitter @eyesgonzales.

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