Monday, June 11, 2012

Davao residents protest privatization of power; urge scrapping of EPIRA

By Karlos Manlupig, VERA Files

Hundreds of environmentalists, activists and residents in Davao City staged a march protest to protest the proposed privatization of power plants in Mindanao and urged the scrapping of the Electric Power Reform Act which marked it's eleventh year last Friday.

"Eleven years is enough. Enough of power rate hikes, enough of power woes! It must be repealed," Francis Morales, Secretary General of Panalipdan-Southern Mindanao, said.

The protest rally, dubbed as the People's Day of Protest against Water and Power Privatization, stressed there is no way the Mindanaoans would allow the selling out of the major hydropower facilities in the island, which was one of the options announced by President Aquino as a solution to rotating brownouts in Mindanao the first quarter of 2012.

"You only have two options, pay higher for better electricity or suffer brownouts," Aquino said during the Mindanao Power Summit.

Aquino explained that private companies have the capacity to provide better technology that may maximize the power generation capacity of the existing facilities in the island.

Morales said that one of the identified hydropower facilities being eyed for privatization is the Agus-Pulangi Hydropower Complex. "These hydropower facilities are on the verge of being handed over to private companies because of the facilitation of the government through EPIRA."

He said the power rate in Mindanao is relatively cheaper compared to Visayas and Luzon because of the affordable power generation of these hydropower plants.

"If our hydropower plants would be privatized, definitely our power rates here in Mindanao would skyrocket. And once these plants are operated and owned by big companies, the government cannot anymore regulate the implementation of power rate hikes," Morales said.

Mindanao Development Authority Chairwoman Luwalhati Antonino said that the cheap energy being generated by the existing hydroelectric power plants in Mindanao is a comparative advantage to other regions on the country.

"Our cheap electricity in Mindanao is a come-on to prospective investors. That is why the people of Mindanao must unite and oppose any moves to privatize our power industry," she said.

The protesters criticized the implementation of EPIRA as a signal of the total sell-out of the energy resources in the country to private corporations.

"The results of EPIRA for the past 11 years have been detrimental to the ordinary people and to the sources of our energy, our water system, water sources and our rivers," Morales said.

He added that when the law was enacted, it was presented as a safety mechanism that would ensure that power rates in the country are reasonable. However, Morales said that the country, most particularly the people of Mindanao, have witnessed successive power rate increases.

"Scrap EPIRA and nationalize our power industry. This industry must serve the interest of the people and not the interest of big companies," he said.

(VERA Files is put out by veteran journalists taking a deeper look at current issues. Vera is Latin for "true.")