philippines june 11 2011MANILA, Philippines – As members of the Joint Congressional Power Commission (JCPC) meet on Thursday to discuss the Mindanao power situation, members of advocacy group Freedom from Debt Coalition (FDC) staged a protest urging lawmakers to exempt the Agus and Pulangi hydropower complexes in Mindanao from being privatized, and to replace the Electric Power Industry Reform Act (EPIRA) for its unfulfilled promises.

"Buking na ng mga taga-Mindanao ang kapalpakan ng EPIRA sa Luzon at Visayas. They are strongly against the idea that Agus-Pulangi, a very cheap source of energy in Mindanao, will be put in the hands of profit-driven private corporations," said Ricardo B. Reyes, FDC president.

FDC chapters in Mindanao have expressed disappointment with the pronouncement of Pres. Benigno S. Aquino III during the Mindanao Power Summit. During the April 13 summit, President Aquino was quoted as saying: "...[Y]ou will have to pay more... There are only two choices: pay a little more for energy, or live with the rotating brownouts."

"What the President said is unacceptable. As representatives of the people, members of Congress, especially members of the JCPC, should reject this view. There are and will always be other and better options. Replacing the anti-consumer, pro-oligarchy EPIRA law is the most logical thing to do," stressed Reyes.

After drawing a lot of flak from people of Mindanao and other advocacy groups, the government changed its tune and announced that President Aquino "has changed his mind" about the planned privatization of the Agus and Pulangi hydroelectric power plants after realizing that doing so would be against the EPIRA. It was Mindanao Development Authority (MinDA) chief Luwalhati Antonino who issued the announcement. Antonino likewise proposed a new government corporation, the Mindanao Power Corporation, to manage the Agus and Pulangi hydropower plants.

FDC, however, takes exception to the MinDA alternative proposal to set up this Mindanao Power Corporation on the following grounds:

1. While the proposed Mindanao Power Corporation is a state entity, the alternative must be modeled in such a manner that public accountability, control and transparent governance are established. This is to avoid the irregularities and mismanagement that characterized the National Power Corporation.

2. The equity participation of the consumers, the electric cooperatives in the area and the indigenous communities must be built into the proposed alternative.

3. The management and development of the alternative model must be geared towards making electricity accessible and affordable (with provisions for subsidy included) to the farming, working class, and indigenous communities and households who are still either without electricity or who cannot or who find it difficult to afford it in Mindanao.

4. A public body should be formed to craft the final shape of the alternative body. Such body should include representatives and experts enlisted by consumers, electric cooperatives, the academe, and the indigenous communities apart from the business sector, the LGUs, and National Government agencies.

Even though Chapter 5, Section 47 (f) of EPIRA states: "The Agus and the Pulangi complexes in Mindanao shall be excluded from among the generation companies that will be initially privatized," the people of Mindanao explicitly expressed their resistance to the impending sale of the hydropower complexes.

EPIRA after 11 years

FDC believes that EPIRA, after 11 years, has failed dismally in delivering what it had promised: addressing expensive power rates, providing reliable and secure power supply, reducing the debts of National Power Corporation, and laying the ground for fair competition – these failures need to be addressed immediately by pushing for an alternative framework for a new power industry that provides for accessible and affordable electricity, democratic and participatory management of power resources and utilities, and develop and shift towards sustainable and renewable energy sources.

After 11 years, the Philippines has the highest power rates in all of Asia. Power rates significantly rose from the average rate of P5.65/kWh in 2001 to the current average of P11/kWh. This 100% increase in rates translates to an additional P1,000 burden to each Filipino family who consumes 200kwh every month.

According to FDC, the country is still faced with the seasonal problems of power interruption attributed to the failure of developing new sources of energy and the effects of climate change on our hydro-power plants.

"EPIRA has systematically prevented the national government from developing and improving state-owned and managed utilities as, over the years, it was geared more into privatizing such assets. This resulted in most of our power utilities being under control of the oligarchic few," said Agee Linan, FDC power campaigner.

"Without a doubt, the EPIRA is a failure in all aspects as it has not delivered any of its promises," said Linan.