FIRST PERSON - Alex Magno (The Philippine Star) - February 22, 2020 - 12:00am

You know the dry months are here when water from your faucet drops to a trickle.

The water concessionaires have imposed rationing in the hope we could stretch the thin supply from Angat Dam until June this year. Last year was an El Nino year and our dams failed to fill up. Our raw water supply has not kept up with population and economic growth.

The same rationing during the dry months could hit our electricity supply. We are now looking at a substantial power supply deficit during the hot months, particularly in April and May. The Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) warned that the shortfall could be as much as 1,800 to 1,900 MW at its peak.

National Electrification Administration (NEA) head Edgardo Masongsong called on the distribution utilities in Luzon and the Visayas to draw up contingency plans to mitigate the anticipated shortfall. The shortfall could lead to rotating brownouts during the hours of peak demand.

ERC chair Agnes Devanadera announced her agency is preparing its own contingency plans. These plans include asking power generation companies adversely affected by the recent Supreme Court ruling requiring mandatory bidding to continue supplying distribution utilities during the power emergency.

According to the ERC, should the affected power generating companies abruptly discontinue providing supply, this could add about 1,000 MW to the expected shortage. That will surely extend the hours of brownouts, damaging our economic performance.

In addition, the ERC is fast-tracking permits to enable generation companies to operate new plants and add additional capacity to the grid as soon as possible. The Certificate of Compliance (COC), which the ERC issues, is one of many permits required by power investors to get projects going. The ERC commits to immediately process COC applications already filed.

In the next weeks, we may expect yellow- and red-alerts to be issued with increasing frequency. It will help if companies schedule their usage to take advantage of lower off-peak rates. The large malls have been very helpful in stabilizing supply by turning on their emergency generators when these alerts are raised.

But all of the measures mentioned above are stopgap in nature. We need to address the long-term structural problems relating to our chronically thin power reserves. The continuation of our impressive economic performance depends on having robust generation capacity.

A lot of the problems causing delays in building additional power supply have been due to the political pressure exerted by dogmatic anti-development groups. They protest every construction of a new power plant and resist the technology-neutral policy of government seeking to provide ample and lower-cost power supply.

The most crucial point of contention has been the use of coal plants to provide a stable and cheap baseload power source to fuel our economic expansion. Renewable energy is ideal but it still costs too much. Relying exclusively on renewable energy will push up power costs, burden consumers and constrain our economic expansion.

Swiss-based IQ AirVisual’s study and Greenpeace’s 2018 Air Quality Report cites 11 Philippine cities, led by Calamba City, for having the cleanest air in Southeast Asia. We have enough headroom to use cheap albeit non-renewable energy sources to power our economic boom at this stage.

Fake news

Chinese authorities have mounted a campaign to discredit that alarming video circulating on social media that suggests policemen were executing citizens infected with Covid-19. The official version is itself circulating virally on social media.

Official media source CGTN claims to have conducted their own investigation after the short video claiming police executions circulated worldwide. They established that the police vehicle used by the policemen shown loading their guns belonged to the Yiwu City police in China’s Zhejiang province. The policemen, according to this news source, were called in by alarmed residence because of a rabid dog threatening them. The dog was killed.

The second part of the controversial video shows a dead or seriously injured person lying on the sidewalk was spliced, attached to the video showing the policemen. It is, according to CGTN, actually a video showing a 15-year-old boy mortally injured in a motorcycle accident in Wuzu township in Hubei province.

Assembling the separate video clips was done to push a malicious claim about what is going on in the epidemic-hit zone. This particular video, it turns out, is part of a cluster of media material circulating online aiming to discredit China and its efforts to contain the virus outbreak.

Chinese authorities are now trying to track the origins of these pieces of fake news. With Beijing’s unparalleled capability to police the Internet, we might expect them to get to the bottom of this.

The alarming fake videos help fuel a wave of “Sino-phobia” worldwide reacting to the virus spread. Beijing, imaginably, has its hands full trying to contain the epidemic while also turning back the xenophobia building up elsewhere.

The good news is that the number of new Covid-19 cases appears to have declined. But the death toll among those already infected remains alarming.

The World Health Organization has so far been supportive of China’s comprehensive response to the epidemic that threatens the world’s supply chains. The parallel surge of fake news accompanying the health emergency can, in the end, only be countered by China demonstrating the highest standards of transparency in dealing with this problem.

This week, the foreign ministers of the ASEAN and China held a joint conference to underscore the need for a regional response to the health emergency. This is a good start. 


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