Philippine power supply jeopardized by Indonesian ban

Danessa Rivera - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines – Indonesia’s decision to stop coal imports to the Philippines could spell problems for the local power industry that relies on coal-fired power plants to supply electricity, the Department of Energy (DOE) said.

The Philippines is heavily reliant on Indonesia for coal for power plants and this could spell danger in relation to the country’s energy supply, Energy Secretary Zenaida Monsada said in an interview during the 10th anniversary of the Wholesale Electricity Spot Market (WESM).

Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi extended the moratorium on coal shipments to the Philippines “until there is a guarantee for security from the Philippine government,” Reuters reported last week.

The decision to extend the moratorium was made after the latest kidnapping by Abu Sayyaf bandits of several Indonesians sailors on board a coal tugboat in the Sulu Sea.

Indonesia supplies 70 percent of the coal used by the Philippines, equivalent to 15 million tons worth around $800 million in 2015.

“We are confirming if Indonesia really banned all coal exports or only on small vessels in the route,” she said.

“But what we’re doing right now is we’re studying the inventories of importers and of power plants, as well as determine whether the replenishment schedules were followed and if supply is affected,” Monsada said.

More than half of the country’s power supply comes from coal-fired and diesel-fired power plants, 30 percent from natural gas plants and 10 percent from renewable sources that include geothermal, wind, hydropower and solar.

Monsada said the agency is still verifying the news on the most recent kidnapping incident and is also coordinating with the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) in terms of security talks.

“We are verifying with the Coast Guard and with the DFA, as they are in talks with foreign ministers on security,” she said.

With growing concerns over the recent kidnappings and armed robbery, the Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia agreed earlier this month on a collective responsibility to address these threats, including sea and air patrols.

After a week, the Armed Forces of the Philippines finally confirmed the kidnapping of seven Indonesian sailors by the Abu Sayyaf on June 22. The sailors are possibly being held captive somewhere in Sulu.

AFP spokesperson Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla confirmed the kidnapping, quoting the Western Mindanao Command, which had jurisdiction over the area where the seven foreigners were reportedly taken by the bandits.

Padilla said Abu Sayyaf snatched the sailors on June 22 at 11 a.m. in the high seas off Sulu.

Reports had it that the seven sailors, including the boat’s captain were on board their tugboat while en route to Indonesia. The military said only seven of 13 crewmembers were taken by the bandits.

“Information from ground units suggest that the kidnap victims are possibly being held captive somewhere in Sulu,” Padilla said.

Malacañang yesterday informed Indonesia officials that the government would take all the necessary steps to ensure that Philippine-bound Indonesian ships would be secured.

“We hope to put in place the tripartite Navy operational coordination that will ensure the security of these (Indonesian) vessels,” Foreign Affairs Secretary Jose Rene Almendras said.

The Indonesian transport ministry banned on Friday last week any Indonesian-flagged vessels from sailing to the Philippines following confirmed reports of kidnapping of its citizens in the Sulu Sea, in the strife-torn waters between the two Asian nations.

Jakarta issued a notice informing all harbor masters they were “strictly prohibited from issuing permits to all Indonesian-flagged vessels bound for the Philippines, without exception.”

The Sulu and Celebes seas form a key waterway between Indonesia, the Philippines and Malaysia, and are used for the passage of 55 million metric tons of goods and over 18 million people per year.

Last month, the three countries agreed to launch a coordinated patrol of the waters after the recent surge of kidnappings.

The Indonesian sailors abducted this week were towing a coal barge through the Sulu Sea when gunmen commandeered their tugboat. – With Cecille Suerte Felipe, Delon Porcalla

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