Usual infra roadblock

DEMAND AND SUPPLY - Boo Chanco - The Philippine Star

For a country in urgent need of modern infrastructure, we have a penchant for using the legal system to delay the completion of such projects. We have too many lawyers who get “temporary restraining orders” from the courts on behalf of landowners with no sense of public good.

Last week, The Star reported that NGCP’s Panay-Guimaras 138-kilovolt (kV) interconnection project has hit a snag due to a TRO preventing the company from carrying out one of the components crucial to the project’s completion. The Panay-Guimaras 138-kV interconnection is considered one of NGCP’s priority projects as it is expected to improve power transmission in the area.

Two tower sites considered crucial for the 1.7-kilometer transmission line will traverse the property of Iloilo Grain Complex Corp. (IGCC). The line will connect the proposed Iloilo substation to the Ingore Cable Terminal Station which will serve as the connection point of the submarine cable to Guimaras Island.

Once completed, the project will address the increasing demand for power in Iloilo City and provide greater transfer capacity to and from Guimaras Island, where renewable energy projects are being developed. The project was originally targeted for completion by December 2024.

NGCP said it filed an expropriation case in September last year to acquire the IGCC property, which was granted by Iloilo Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 33 on Nov. 3, 2022, and a writ of possession was later on issued on Dec. 12, 2022. The IGCC filed a motion for reconsideration last January that was denied by the RTC.

The IGCC raised the RTC decision before the Supreme Court, which then issued the TRO, preventing NGCP from executing the writ of possession and all other related orders issued by the Iloilo RTC.

Apparently, IGCC wants NGCP to reroute through a residential area directly traversing five households, as opposed to the open area traversed by the project’s current route covered by the writs of possession.

NGCP said that any deviation in the established route may also affect adjacent towers and cause further delay in the completion of the project. In plotting the route of its transmission line projects, the company said a major consideration is to traverse areas that will cause least destruction to property, and result in the least number of persons displaced.

Another NGCP project was also earlier issued a TRO, the Cebu-Magdugo 230-kV line, a component of the Cebu-Negros-Panay Stage 3 backbone project crucial to the full operation of the Mindanao-Visayas interconnection. The TRO was issued in response to the petition filed by the Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprise Zone Authority. Two towers traverse TIEZA’s property, which it intends to develop into a golf course.

The crazy thing is that TIEZA is also a government agency under the Department of Tourism. Probably, TIEZA thinks a golf course is more important than a power line that is essential to take full advantage of the Mindanao-Visayas interconnection. Absolutely silly bureaucrats.

The last I heard, TIEZA reached an agreement with NGCP on how to proceed. Hopefully, the compromise will not be more expensive to power consumers who inevitably pay for NGCP project costs.

There is another important TRO case also pending with the Supreme Court. This involves the very important Hermosa-San Jose line that affects power supply to the Luzon grid, specially Metro Manila. The party involved is a property company of Ambassador Jose Antonio. The project cures an inadequacy that has caused power brownouts in Metro Manila where the Supreme Court is.

The problem in Iloilo is big. If NGCP cannot commission the new 3x100 mva Iloilo substation by next year because of the Supreme Court TRO, the local power distributor might have to impose rotation outages in the city. That will adversely affect the current Iloilo business boom. It is important that the Supreme Court resolves the issues quickly. The normal pace of judicial decisions is bad for economic growth.

Actually, there was a previous agreement between the Supreme Court and the Executive branch to exempt vital infrastructure projects from TROs. I searched through The Star archives and found a story that confirms my suspicion.

The story quotes then Chief Justice Hilario Davide as saying that the TRO ban covers projects under the Build-Operate-Transfer Law, among others.

The same story said: “The tribunal also warned judges against issuing TROs on clearance of right-of-way of any national government project, biddings, implementation, prosecution and execution of contracts, rescission of projects, and the authorization of any other lawful activity necessary for such contract. Violations of this circular, particularly those mentioned on right-of-way projects, will mean that the freeze order is considered invalid or void from the very start,” Davide said.

But subsequently, Republic Act 8975 provides that “No court, except the Supreme Court, shall issue any temporary restraining order, preliminary injunction or preliminary mandatory injunction against the government, or any of its subdivisions, officials or any person or entity, whether public or private, acting under the government’s direction, to restrain, prohibit or compel the following acts: (a) Acquisition, clearance and development of the right-of-way and/or site or location of any national government project…”

That’s the thing. The Supreme Court is exempt. It can issue TROs. Such being the case, the least the high court can do is to uphold the spirit of the law and make sure vital infrastructure projects are carried out with the least delay.

Time is always of the essence in the execution of infrastructure projects because most of these projects should have been done years ago. Delays in execution adversely affect the economic lives of people.

Normally, the role of the courts in ROW cases is merely to determine “just compensation” for expropriated land and there is a formula for computing this. In the meantime, the government can proceed with its project, so long as they deposit an escrow amount to the court to cover compensation for expropriated land. This is a well-established procedure/process. A TRO seems superfluous.

That project in Iloilo has to be in place not only because the city needs the power, but also because some of the power produced (specially from renewable energy) will be wasted if it cannot be absorbed by Iloilo as planned. Sayang naman.



Boo Chanco’s email address is [email protected]. Follow him on X or Twitter @boochanco.

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